No other airport in the world faces more threats than Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. The Israelis have set the gold standard for establishing and maintaining security in all its forms, much of which has filtered throughout the world over the years.
The security protocols established there are achieved using a combination of due diligence, common sense application and consistent application of a range of finely tuned process and systems. No other airport in the world can equal the level of professionalism and dedication that is practiced at Ben Gurion.
Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv is notorious amongst travelers for being uncompromising when it comes to security, with many stories of innocent travelers being detained for many hours, missing flights and being subjected to intrusive luggage checks, strip searches and heavy interrogations. So what's it really like when arriving and departing from one of the most secure airports on the planet?
1. Arriving In Israel
Upon landing arriving passengers are ushered right into the terminal without having to take any shuttles or buses. Ben Gurion airport has only one main Terminal (3) from which all flights depart and arrive with the exception of a few charter or budget flights that fly from Terminal 1.
On these flights only, arriving passengers may need to take a bus from the airplane to the terminal because those airlines save on the expense of jet bridges. The first stop after landing at Ben Gurion airport is immigration and passport control.
Visitors can expect to wait in line a long time, particularly during summer and holiday periods. As in most countries, there are separate lines for Israeli citizens and foreigners, so pay attention to the signs and make sure you stand in the correct line.
Ben Gurion airport is probably the world’s most secure airport which more often than not can lead to long delays in processing. Depending on your security profile or where a passenger has come from, some foreigners may face polite, persistent and repetitive questioning by immigration officers. If you have nothing to hide then of course, there is nothing to be concerned about. Answer all the questions posed to you honestly and as briefly as possible. Be patient and respectful at all times.
If you are a business traveler it's recommended you ask your host for a letter of reference including the name and contact number of your sponsor. Present the letter to immigration officers on arrival, as it can make a huge difference in the processing time for many.
If you intend on traveling to Arab or Islamic Countries after visiting Israel, be advised that some will not allow you in if your passport includes an Israeli visa or stamp.
2. Do They Stamp Your Passport?
This has to be one one of the most asked questions by first time visitors to Israel and the answer is they don’t, if you make the request to the authorities. Israel views particular stamps in a travelers passport as a security issue, with a large number of countries in the Middle East and beyond viewing having an Israeli stamp with equal distrust.
The reality is in some countries this may get you a bit of heavy questioning at arrivals, in others it will prohibit your entry completely. So when arriving and Israel instead of receiving a stamp in your passport, visitors can be issued with a piece of paper to keep inside their passport which can be and discarded once they have departed the country.
3. Departing Israel
First of all without a doubt you will be questioned, just accept that as inevitable part of your trip. There is a fairly good chance you will be questioned before even entering the airport itself and you will certainly be questioned before you even get to the check in counter.
Just how many times you will be questioned depends on the method in which you arrived at the airport - via the train, taxi or transfer. The answers you provide together with who you happen to be questioned by and whatever assessment of your risk level the individual security officers make on any given day, really depends on any number of variables of which you will remain blissfully unaware.
4. Your Threat Ranking
For those who are uninitiated, Israeli security have a system for assessing just how much of a threat you are, and how much you will be questioned and searched further on down the line. After the initial round of questioning, you will be issued a color coded sticker which is affixed to your passport, the sticker includes a series of numbers and a barcode.
It may seem innocuous enough, however this sticker forms part of a subtle profiling system which is observed by other members of the airport security team as you move throughout the airport, and are continually questioned as you slowly progress through the 'system'.
From what is known, the system uses a ranking from 1 to 6, with the first 2 numbers reserved for Israelis, diplomats and others who are not considered a threat by Israeli security.
Numbers 3 and 4 are said to be reserved for foreigners who are not considered to be a risk (racial profiling does play a part in this evaluation process). The number 5 is reserved for foreigners who raise some doubt in the eyes of security officials and are considered worthy of a few more questions and perhaps a search.
The number 6 is considered a high security risk where the passenger will be completely controlled and searched thoroughly.
It is important to remember that even though there is a chance you may be considered a risk, it doesn’t mean anything terrible is going to occur, it simply means you will be questioned and your luggage searched. There are also whispers of a 6T for those whom security officials consider to be an extreme threat - but who really knows for sure.
Israeli security are very thorough and can be very slow in processing passengers and for good reason, however they are polite, professional and certainly nothing to be afraid of.
So next time you are headed to the airport, stop to consider just how much goes into clearing the many thousands of passengers who pass through the terminal building each day.