“I started at the Helsinki Airport border control back in 2004. The first eight years I did basic border control – you can say I was the ‘stone-faced dude in the glass booth. The past five years I’ve been the duty officer of my unit.
“Our main task at the airport is performing entry and departure checks at the border of the Schengen area: checking who is a legal or an illegal passenger. We make sure that passengers have the right to leave the country: They are not running away from officials, for instance. In entry checks we ensure that passengers fulfill the legal requirements for entering the country.
“We cooperate closely with airport operator Finavia. They are in charge of efficiently directing passenger flows, and we make sure passengers cross the border legally. We also work together in planning the border crossing facilities, lines and technology. It is in everyone’s interest to make border crossing as safe and smooth as possible, especially as passenger numbers at Helsinki Airport keep rising.
Border control requires social skills
“At the end of the day, a passport is just a little paper booklet with one plastic-covered page. The most important asset in our line of work is being able to read people and having great social skills. I usually pay close attention to how people behave already when they are queuing.
“If it seems like the passport photo does not match the face or the passenger is behaving in a suspicious way, we start asking some questions. Usually I start simply with ‘Hey, how are you? Where are you going?’ and ‘May I check your boarding pass?’ If we decide that there’s need for a closer inspection, we direct the passenger to our office facilities and start looking into things. We have clear rules as to how and what we inspect, and they are all based on the law.
Never be rude to passengers
“Many people don’t realise that the Border Guard has its own investigators and that we investigate our own cases such as suspected illegal immigration or human traffic cases. The toughest cases are those that involve children. That always requires the most serious investigation.
“An airport border guard may look hundreds of people in the eye during one work shift. Most of all, our work requires good nerves and the ability to empathise with customers. They might have a long flight behind them, or are hungry, tired and jet lagged. We can’t start being rude or bossing them around in that situation; instead, we need to stay calm and courteous.
Be careful with humour at the border
“I don’t think border guards need to be stern though: we are allowed to smile even if people might think differently. I sometimes joke around and love to talk to passengers as it relaxes the situation. Humour in this task requires a lot of tact though, as we must maintain a professional image.
“Passengers are also allowed to joke, but there are certain boundaries you should not cross. Don’t joke about bombs at the border, for instance. Airport safety is something we just cannot take lightly.
“Still, passengers should know that we don’t sit in the booth to stalk or slow down anyone’s travel, but to assist and safeguard them. Air travel in itself sets up strict limitations, and situations and schedules at the airport can change at a moment’s notice, so a large part of our work is about helping passengers and helping to solve their problems.”