Flight from Kabul through security check central

Did another trip out of KBL a few weeks ago. The morning Safi Airways flight to Delhi. I knew there were a lot of security checks so this time I kept a count – and came up with a substantial total!

The checks you are subjected to vary a bit from trip to trip, some are standard, some are the sort of thing you’d have departing on any flight, some are intermittent or selective. These were the plays for me on this particular exit…

The game starts about 800m from the terminal…
1. All passengers exit vehicle. Body search. Reenter vehicle and drive on
2. Passengers exit vehicle at next check point. Another body search. Meanwhile, vehicle search (mirrors on sticks, interior search etc).
3. Enter remote baggage scan room. Baggage search. Come out the other side and get back in.
4. Vehicle checkpoint. stop
5. Further vehicle checkpoint. Stop. Enter carpark and exit vehicle.

You’re now approaching the airport itself. I’ve never taken a photo of the exterior, given the high likelihood of difficulties with officialdom in such a strategic location, but others have, here’s one

There is a smaller,older terminal used for domestic flights a bit to the right of the international terminal pictured, but I couldn’t find any published photos. It has a very large billboard picture of Ahmad Shah Massoud out the front.

Before stepping inside I note the new solar panels that festoon the carpark, someone’s aid project no doubt, but can’t find the destroyed one. A couple of weeks before I flew out on this trip KBL was the recipient of a Taliban rocket attack, one of the rockets having destroyed one of the new solar panels in the car park. The airport may have been the subject of the rocket attack, but then the target may have been the presidential palace several kilometres away. The Taliban rocket attacks have very limited success in inspiring fear, their hopeless aim tending to inspire laughter instead.

6. Passport check, baggage search outside the terminal
7. Ticket check at terminal entry
8. Body search: rigorous, with rubber gloves :0. Empty pockets. Wallets etc searched, mobile phones etc scrutinised.
9. Baggage scan.
10. Check in – yee har! I’ve only flown Safi, so can’t comment on any of the others, but like the way they’ll gaily check your luggage through to anywhere, on any airline.

The lengthy searches prior to this point result in a drip feed of pax and mean that check in queues are usually fairly short. But there are also queues at many other points.
10. Work permit check.
11. Preliminary passport check
12. Passport check and exit stamp applied
13. Another passport check for good measure.
14. Hand luggage scan incl shoes, belts etc
15. Manual baggage scan – a lot of bags fail the bag scan.

After 15 you’ve hit the big time. Departure lounge. It took about an hour and a half to get here, with the longest queues at points 8. and 11. The queue for check in was only about 10 minutes. A single modest hall, with a coffee shop, duty free and, believe it or not, free wifi. Unfortunately it’s so slow as to be virtually unusable.

There is also the ‘Business Class Lounge’ off the side of the departure hall. This Lounge has no door, and noone guarding it. There is a drinks fridge, but it’s always locked. There is a toilet. There are a few large, uncomfortable chairs around the side. And bizarrely, few people enter it, even when the departure hall is fairly full. Maybe its the absence of lounge dragons, or the lack of eliteness in a lounge that anyone can go to, that diminishes the allure. I have no idea, but I always sit in the lounge!

17. Boarding pass/passport check
Boarding is usually about 30-60 minutes late. There are two airbridges and often 3 or 4 flights leaving at about the same time, so you’ll often be bussed to a remote stand. We are taking Safi’s only 767 to DEL, so we score one of the airbridges.

18. Passport check at the end of the airbridge, as you step onto the aircraft.
Safi (4Q) currently have 4 aircraft, the 767 for this flight, a 757 (on which I later returned from DEL), and a couple of A320s, both of which I’ve caught on flights to or from DXB or AUH.

Safi’s planes are not in the worst shape I’ve ever seen, but not the best either. I’d probably rate them about on a par with Air Pacific, or Air Niugini’s international fleet. Kam Air (RJ) is an alternative that I might try sometime. Air India fly daily to Delhi, and the choice pick is Turkish Airlines to Istanbul; uUnfortunately the choice pick travels in the wrong direction. The other regular visitor is FlyDubai, to DXB of course. I suspect Safi might be the choice pick of Afghan airlines, but like its brethren its not permitted to fly into the EU.

Ariana Afghan Airlines are also everpresent at the airport, the National Carrier having the largest fleet and an impressive array of dishevelled ruins adjacent to the tarmac. They are the airline noone flies (employer advice typically along the lines of ‘strongly advise to avoid’) but everyone has rumours about.

You’ll find some choice rumours about Ariana on Skytrax; like Andre Krummacher’s

“Rumors go that Ariana uses spare parts from their blown up 727s. UN pilots told me that they observed Ariana engineers repairing an engine and having no clue what they were actually doing.”

The latter is an entirely plausible claim for Afghanistan and I can confirm that there are several ragged looking ruins of Ariana 727s at KBL.

My favourite rumour, though, is Dave Stanley’s

“I met a guy who was actually on their first flight out of Dubai after the war in July 2002. They almost made it to Kabul, the wheels did actually hit the runway causing the oxygen masks and baggage lockers to fall down. Then they went and made an emergency landing in Peshawar, where the pilot had to ask the few passengers for money to pay for fuel.”

Guess I’ll have to give Ariana a try some time…

Views below of Kabul after takeoff looking over the airport, flying over the Khyber Pass towards Pakistan, the business lounge with the always open door and the always locked drinks cupboard, Safi coffee and Safi plane.


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