Yep, this is going to be another post about a bad airport photography experience, so if you're sick of them, I understand and please move on to the next posting. I should also warn you about the mild sarcasm that follows.
Today I got out of work early and we were having beautiful weather so I decided to take a trip up to my local airport, Bradley, the airport for Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA. It's one of those airports where you have to wait a half hour for each plane, but usually, you can get some good photos there (DL 757/767, US A321) if you are patient.
Being the criminal that I am, I opted out of the automobile search required to park in the ever-so-bomb-susceptable short-term parking spaces and headed straight for the long term spaces further out in the parking structure.
The day was going well when... After shooting from a window (from landside, not past security) for about a half hour, I was approached by a National Guard member who asked me what I was doing. He said that someone had reported a journalist taking photos of planes and he was sent to check it out. After several attempts of trying to explain that it is my hobby (referencing my love for planes, the Airliners.net, etc.) he still could grasp the concept. While he is calling to see if it is ok for me to stay, I casually ask him if he is still concerned that I am doing something wrong and if so what is it. He replied that I could be either:
1) photographing the layout of the airport;
2) trying to learn how they put fuel in a plane; or
3) trying to take notice of what the flight schedules were.
Apparently, this genius had never seen:
1) the airport map on the wall behind him;
2) anyone put fuel into anything; or
3) a timetable
Following this exchange, he gets word from the airport operations department, whom he radioed, that photograpy there is no problem (which I was already assured of when I went through another interrogation there last Saturday.)
He then decides that he better call me in to the cops anyway. Soon a State Trooper arrives. I can quickly see that he is one of those cops on a power trip who gets off on the idea of being in control. My ID gets passed from the National Guard guy who is still there (along with his buddy who has arrived to watch the circus) and I start getting grilled by the state cop about the fact that my driver's license is from New York even though I am living in Connecticut (lesson here: lying is better than telling the truth). So the cop with the attitude calls in a "code something" on my suspicious New York license while two other State cops arrive. I find out that the third cop is into photography and that he was called as a specialist to handle my situation.
This third cop is the only one among the three with any sense. He is equally interested in making sure that nothing wrong is going on, but the key is, he does it WITHOUT AN ATTITUDE. Immediately, the whole tense situation is immediately diffused by this cop as he strikes up a civil conversation with me. The call on the license comes back ok. They then suggest to me that next time I want to take photos, I should stop by the Airport Operations office, introduce myself, and tell them what I am going to be doing. That would be a great idea, except for the fact the the office is PAST THE SECURITY CHECKPOINT down one of the concourses. (I decided to try phoning them next time instead.)
Not five minutes later, a security screener or rent-a-cop (I couldn't tell which) comes by and in almost unintelligible English either says, "Do you have authority?" or "Do you have ID". After trying twice to hear what he is saying, I get the idea and tell him to go talk to the three cops who just spent the last half hour grilling me and they'll tell you that everything's A-OK.
At this point I've totally lost the desire to stay there any longer so I decide to leave.
Here are my overall observations:
1) The National Guard is completely useless at the airport. They need to either go back to riot control or whatever they did prior to 9/11 or take some training from European airport security professionals if they are going to be stationed at the airport for the long term.
2) The police and other security personnel at the airport need to get the story straight about what is and is not allowed. If photographers make people nervous (and I get that they do and am not criticizing people for being vigilant), then the police and airport employees should be informed enough to already have a clear understanding about the airport's policy toward them. There is absolutely no reason why any security person should have to "make a call" to see if it ok for someone to be photographing planes. Even today I got two conflicting stories from them about whether or not it is ok to photograph from the perimeter.
3) Police at the airport are doing an essential job, one for which I have a lot of respect, especially since 9/11. What I have zero tolerance for is the horrible attitudes that many of these cops have that can incite even the most mild mannered person I am always more than willing to talk to them about what I am doing and why, show them my ID, let them search my bag, but I resent being treated like a criminal or an idiot when they don't know ANYTHING about me.
So that's it. I'm done venting for now. If you've made it this far and are still interested, I am considering writing an editorial to my local newspaper, The Hartford Courant, about the "new normal" for aircraft photographers and spotters. Who knows if it will get picked up or if anyone even cares, but after that Houston article, maybe it's worth a shot. If anyone wants to help, let me know.
Take care and have a good weekend.