Thursday, February 21, 2013

Can a remote queue management system for airport security work in reality?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

A recent report indicates that Warsaw Chopin is the first airport in the world to launch a remote queue management system aimed at controlling queue lengths and reducing the waiting time for security checks. The arrangement of the queuing configuration that directs the flow of passengers into the security screening path will automatically and seamlessly change according to queuing pressures.

Source: Warsaw Chopin site
Source: Warsaw Chopin site
No more unnecessary waiting in line, no more frustrated and angry passengers. Remote control at its finest. And, no need for human intervention or interference: no need for security personal to mix with passengers, argue with them, make judgments, be friendly or explain long delays. Information will now be relayed by sensors to software that will take this hazardous and annoying part of the security process and sanitize it. Heaven on earth!

But, if we look a little closer at the basic idea of continuing the “automation” of airport passenger processing by minimizing any contact or decisions by employees, we should also take into account the fact that passengers are not mindless, individual robots. Nor are they passive cogs in a mass processing factory.

Just picture the possibility of a family consisting of parents, children and grandparents on their way to enjoy a family vacation. They are waiting in line together, when all of a sudden the posts or guidance tapes change configuration and they find themselves split up. Great for optimizing the flow of passengers but terrible for the family members. And what can we expect regarding their probable behaviour?

Those posts and tapes will likely be ignored in favour of family togetherness. And others seeing this will also likely do the same. The technology does not accept that passengers are not cattle that blindly follow the chosen path.

So, we are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, we have sophisticated technology that should reduce queuing time, facilitate throughput and reduce costs and passenger dissatisfaction. On the other, we have passenger social behaviour which, to the airport designer, seems not only unreasonable but downright irrational. Complicate this situation with the fact that passengers are a very diverse population culturally, socially and economically. Some have experience in airport travel while others do not. Some arrive at airports as family units and others do not. Some are on charter flights and others on commercial scheduled flights. All these differences among passengers are simply not accounted for in the security processes.

A good example of this diversity emerged from the BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) Project. Close observations of passengers during the screening process discovered distinct stages where passengers and security employees actually negotiate over items screeners decide are prohibited to bring onboard.

These stages range from accepting the decision to more time-consuming (and costly) stages of negotiating (and even arguing and refusal). While this analysis was done to gauge the actual costs of screening security, what emerged was that by characterizing passengers on the simple basis of being a “charter” or “scheduled” flight passenger, we could predict how the negotiation process would develop.

Here is a clear case where passengers do make a critical impact on security processes. So, despite all the efforts to eliminate the human factor in airport security through greater use of sophisticated technology, airport security designers still have to face the unpleasant fact that passengers are the life blood of air transportation. Paying attention to them rather than ignoring them is rule number one for commercial survival.


*Prof Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum, founder and CEO of Kirschenbaum Consulting.


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  2. Thanks for sharing this! I think that these types of systems can work mainly because it will allow them to have an easier workflow that they can manager easier. The company I work for is looking into a queue management system that will allow the company to increase employee productivity, which has been a goal for quite some time.

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