The US Travel Association and a panel of travel and security experts recently published a plan to improve security at America’s airports and reduce the burden on travelers. This initiative follows research which revealed that travelers are avoiding two to three trips per year due to unnecessary hassles associated with the security screening process.
While we at BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) agree that the basic idea of making airport environments in general and in terms of security more user- (passenger-) friendly is a good one, we have the following reservations:
- It is very difficult to dictate when passengers will arrive at airports It is also not possible to treat passengers as items on a conveyor belt. The rational and logical production engineering systems do not fit human behaviors, especially the heterogeneous populations that use airports. BEMOSA studies of passengers show that their behaviors differ: families, frequent flyers, businessman and others behave differently in cases of emergencies.
- While the plan calls for reducing the number of travel items screened by security, studies of time spent going through the security screening process show that it is not likely that reducing the number of items will have an impact. What is crucial is the screening process by security employees, and especially the degree to which rules are followed. Reducing the number of items may only marginally reduce the flow problem.
- As for the introduction of new technologies, building a better mouse trap will still catch the same mice. What is crucial here is that security employees may view technology as not the best way to provide security. In the recent BEMOSA project results, this appears to be the case, indicating that a large proportion of security professionals do not trust technology and rely more on their experience.
- The consequences, from the airports’ perspective, may not be advantageous. This stems from the fact that by reducing time in airports you impact revenues, as a large chunk of an airports income is derived from the number of passengers passing through it.
- Airports, in reality, have become shopping malls, which also happen to have aircraft landing and taking off. Currently, most revenues are not related to the “air” part of the airport, but are, in fact, derived from rental of shops, parking fees, etc. Therefore, time spent in the airport is directly related to income production and this might affect decisions to “reduce” time spent.
- The panel called for the implementation of a well-defined risk management process. This is a serious problem, as it is constantly shifting in terms of potential threats. We assume this means “profiling” in a politically correct fashion. This appears to be a major point in the recommendations. In the BEMOSA data, we found that it was already in place in terms of who security employees perceived as a potential threat. Here again, assumptions are made that somewhere along the travel line someone (security) will do their jobs correctly. Case studies have not found this to be accurate.
- What the panel has also ignored are non-passenger parts of the airport. Airport security is not only passengers but cargoes, baggage and maintenance, which have an impact on reducing or minimizing actual threats.