We love complaining about the obtrusive Transportation Security Administration at US airports, but our little TSA has nothing on the security measures in effect at Kabul International Airport.
Of course I am making an apples to oranges comparison, but let me tell you how I went from the Green Zone to airport’s departure lounge.
The airport was only a few kilometers away from my final stop in Kabul, the British Cemetery, but the journey was no Sunday afternoon drive. Earlier I mentioned that autos are not allowed near the airport due to security concerns and as we approached the airport we came to our first checkpoint, where my armed guard had to say goodbye—it was either check his weapon in or step out of the car. He chose the latter, though he could have slid the weapon under his seat—the Afghan soldiers only searched the trunk of the car.
Next up came another checkpoint—where I was asked to get out of the car and take my belongings with me. With my guide, I passed through a metal detector and my duffel bag was screened. Outside again, I found our vehicle undergoing a thorough inspection and my driver submitting to a TSA-style pat down.
Cleared, I climbed back into the 4Runner and we proceeded a few hundred yards further to the parking lot where my detail had picked me up upon my arrival. I paid for my services and received warm goodbye handshakes from my driver and guide.
Nearby was a terminal that housed a couple travel agencies and a restaurant. I was getting hungry, but unaware of how long it would take to check-in, I proceeded through the building and began walking toward the main airport departures terminal.
After about 500 meters I came to another checkpoint, in which my passport was checked, I was asked to produce a copy of my ticket (but waived through when I stated I only had an electronic ticket with no printed confirmation), and faced another pat down and baggage screening.
The departure terminal now stood in front of me, with prominent posters of Ahmad Shah Massoud and Hazmid Karzai on display. Walking up to the terminal entrance, another security check—this time just a patdown but no bag check.
Inside was a single check-in lobby where I was quickly able to check in for my FlyDubai flight to Dubai. My flight was now about 1.5 hours away and yet I was the only one checking in. Strange, I thought. Was everyone early?
Down the hall and upstairs is passport control. Migration cards are collected when you enter the line and the exit process was thankfully easy. I was traveling on a tourist visa—no concerns this time about transiting from Dubai to Dubai—and I was quickly stamped out of the country without so much as a word from the immigration agent.
Next came the final security check. My boots were ordered off (nicely) and the contents of my bag were very closely examined. For the first time, my water was confiscated and my laptop was run through the metal detector a second time for good measure.
Past security is the departure a hall, a room not much bigger than a typical single gate area in the USA. Filthy bathrooms, a snack stand, duty free shop, and even a VIP lounge (a small unattended room with a couch) were present.
In answer to my earlier question, most people just checked in early, for the departure area was jammed and I quite enjoyed people watching for the next hour (the plane ended up departing late). I did not run into many Americans during my visit, but there was a handful of departing soldiers here dressed in civilian clothes but carrying their camouflage duffel bags. A couple UN aid workers, identifiable by their bright blue passports, were sitting around chatting and an entourage of suited men surrounding a man who looked like Michael Jordan occupied one corner of the lounge—too bad I didn’t have Google Glass: my guess was he head to be a diplomat of some kind, but I could not identify him.
About 30 minutes behind schedule, boarding began for my FlyDubai flight to Dubai. It was time to leave Afghanistan…
Read more of my Saudi Arabia + Afghanistan Trip Report–
Introduction: A Journey to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan
How to Obtain a Saudi Arabian Transit Visa
New York JFK to Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class
Review: Park Hyatt Jeddah
Pictures from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah to Dubai in Saudia Economy Class
Dubai to Kabul on Ariana Afghan Airlines
Arrival in Afghanistan
The Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan
My Hotel, er Compound, in Kabul, Afghanistan
Kabul – TV Tower Hill and Darul Aman Palace
Kabul – National Museum of Afghanistan
Kabul – Gardens of Babur and Kart-e Sakhi Mosque
Kabul – The Green Zone and British Cemetery
Kabul International Airport and Departing Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Dilemma
Kabul to Dubai on flydubai
Dubai to New York via Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class
“handful of departing soldiers…” Those are civilian contractors. USMIL does not fly commercial to/from Afg.
@semperfi77: Thanks–that would make sense!
When mil take personal leave, say for a weekend in Dubai if given permission, can they fly commercial?
I only ask because this woman sitting across from me had a CAC card and a SSGT pin on her duffel bag, but I suppose she certainly could have been a contractor.
Did CBP give you a hard time when you told them you are coming from Afghanistan where you went for “tourism” — alone?
@John–I did not travel to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan for tourism, but for work–for this blog. I always have a business card ready and always honestly declare where I’ve been, even when I went to Cuba. In this case, the JFK CBP agent asked no questions.
Interesting, thats the same experience I get. When I go somewhere alone for work it is OK. When I go to the same place alone on vacation its the friggin inquisition.