Airport security - who is that passenger? October 2001
There now must be an irrevocable step change in the required level of security to make air travel acceptably safe to the travelling public. One major element to surface is that it will no longer be sufficient to assume that dangerous malcontents can be stopped at the airport through the assiduous use of metal detectors. Nor is it sufficient merely to search passengers' bags for items that may be used in an aggressive way on board — even if we can develop the machinery to identify non–metallic objects such as those used on September 11. It becomes paramount that we can identify each passenger before he gets into the airport as not only who we expect him to be, but also who he or she says they are.
Not unexpectedly, the immediate reaction from the authorities from the events of the disaster has been significantly to heighten security checks. In the US, airport security has been somewhat more relaxed than in Europe and elsewhere. Now it is much different. The received advice is now for passengers to allow for two hours check before departure on a domestic flight and three hours before departing on an international flight. The emphasis in the short run is on checking as many bags and travellers as possible, to deny the ability for passengers to take bags on–board and to question all travellers for their reason to travel.
There have been reports of isolated incidents of panicky action on the part of the air crew. One flight crew refused to take off with passengers of Middle Eastern appearance on board, although they were respectable businessmen who had cleared all security checks. In the current very tense atmosphere a tragic accident caused by panic or misinterpretation is unfortunately quite possible.
The implications of the changed security are enormous.
Airline recruitment and employment: there will be an increased need for the positive vetting and psychometric testing of all pilots, flight crew and cabin crew. Crew must now be trained to overcome hijackers rather than trying to appease them — something that runs contrary to the whole ethos of the profession.
Also, the last thing any airline will want is to employ a professional with suicidal tendencies — it has happened more than once.
Aircraft interior design: the events of September 11 show that the current system is not safe — indeed, on some intra–European flights the cockpit door is routinely left open throughout the flight.
There have been calls for all flight decks to be securely isolated from the cabin during flight. This will mean heavier doors and securer locks. It will also mean providing the flight crew with catering and other facilities completely separated from the main cabins. On long–haul flights pilots would thereby have to have secure and separate rest and recreation areas. All this will add weight and expense.
Cabin security: the US government has announced that there will be armed air marshalls on every flight. Direct costs of these guards will be paid by the government. Airlines will have to lose some revenue seats but that scarcely appears to be a problem at the moment. It also brings up the question of trust and positive vetting similar to that suggested above for flight crew.
Airline check-in procedures: is sure — there will be unbearable check–in procedures. El Al had to impose some of the most uncomfortable check in procedures following the hi–jacks of the 70s. Since then, that airline has been one of the safest carriers, but equally one of the most objectionable on which to fly for the quality of customer experience (until you get on board).
As part of the new security measures it is likely that all carriers will have to provide the El Al–type security procedures and passenger vetting. The reason for the highly personal questions that El Al security officers ask is to attempt to gain an idea of the bona fides of the traveller. This is now imperative for every other airline worldwide.
As a result the check–in process for everyone is going to elongate. This will mean either very much longer queues or a substantial increase in the number of check in desks, check in staff and security personnel. Or both. For the passenger of course it will mean the need to allow a very much greater amount of time for the check–in process. For those carriers who operate efficient transfer hubs, it will result in the requirement for greater minimum transfer times between connecting flights — reducing the attractiveness of the hub — and indeed of the whole of an airline’s operations.
For all airports worldwide implications are also severe.
Check–in times are likely to increase by 50%-100%. As a result, with so many passengers arriving so much more in advance of travel, both the landside space required for passenger check–in and the airside space required will more than double (with the necessity to provide adequate capacity for peak periods). Terminal throughput will fall as will the design capacity. For example, a terminal that may have adequately coped with 20m pax per year may now have a safe design capacity of only 12–15m pax. There are already many airports worldwide with capacity restraints on runway usage. This argument implies that many will exceed terminal design capacity.
For many US airports, where in the past the security has been laxer than elsewhere, much stricter controls to airside access will have to be imposed: and in many cases this will require some further terminal design to provide for segregation of checked and nonchecked travellers. This will be particularly so at hub airports, with requirements for much better transfer passenger segregation and security checking.
Bag check routines will inevitably become far more onerous. One of the main difficulties will be in designing a process to pick up non–metallic dangerous items.
Increasingly it is likely that a certification of airport security measures becomes necessary: and in many airports, airlines are likely to insist on self handling and security checks.
A new solution
Is there really a solution to the dilemma? What is apparent is that the industry now has really to know its customer. Photo IDs, passports and driving licences can easily be forged — and without a lot of manpower difficult to validate at airport check–in.
For most of the major airlines their frequent flyers account for the greater majority of trips taken and by far the majority of revenue generated — adhering to the 80/20 rule that 20% of the passengers provide 80% of the revenue. These are the last people that the airlines want to restrict: and there will be increasing pressure for positive vetting of the frequent flyer to allow fast track access. Even so the airline and airport would need to know that the passenger who turns up at the airport is who they actually thought he or she was.
Technology moves on apace and there is the opportunity for airlines to use secure smart card technology to maximise security and minimise costs. These cards could be programmed to contain biometric data (such as retina patterns, finger prints) that can be validated at any point in the travel process to guarantee that the card carrier is the one to whom it was issued. They could also be programmed to include the bearer’s photograph, social security numbers, next of kin, current travel ticket details, and current position in the check in process. The cards would use public/private key trusted third party encryption methodology of the highest standards to secure and protect the data.
The passenger would have to be positively vetted prior to enabling the use of the card. This initially would involve a costly face–to–face process: but need only be done infrequently for the frequent traveller.
As a result of this pre–vetting of frequent passengers the security measures could legitimately concentrate on the risks — the passengers you know nothing about.
This is not a new idea: the STP (simplifying travel programme — see www.simplifying–travel.org) has been proposing something similar to ease the travel process through borders. The US has also had a small–scale programme in place for some time (INSPass).