Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More attention should be paid to the human factor in airport security

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

Kirschenbaum Consulting’s recent study showing that passengers of charter flights are responsible for the majority of extra costs arising from delays in airport security checks won extensive media coverage.

Following the publication of the findings, we received many comments to which I will try to relate in this post. Our evidence about charter versus commercial flight passengers as a crude measure for gauging security costs is only one highlight of a complex and cutting edge research program carried out by the BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) Project we were involved in.

The decision to highlight these results stems from an obvious need to reevaluate the role that passengers play in airport security. Until now, most studies of passenger “throughput” have been classical in their objective – reducing the time it takes to “process” passengers.

This is actually in line with how airports are designed, primarily as mass production units that regard passengers as passive cogs in the service of engineering design and logistic optimization.

The introduction of security technology was a natural outcome of such a perspective as it once more marginalized both employees and passengers by minimizing the need for what we know as the complexity of making security decisions under conditions of uncertainty. This complexity actually showed itself in the fact that close to 40 percent of the employees in airports dispersed throughout Europe actually bent, broke, ignored or even went against the security rules and protocols.

What we did was introduce passengers into the security decision-making process from a human factor perspective. Anyone going through the checkpoint screening process cannot but help but recognize that some passengers interact with the security employees. We noted that while some were very passive and almost automatically acquiesced to orders to open bags or leave items behind, we also noted that others acted differently, and there were those who even argued. Giving away a $100 bottle of prize whisky was not taken lightly.

All this negotiating took time, and given the practical and ethical problems involved in interviewing passengers during this screening process, we were restricted in distinguishing passengers by the type of flight they were about to board – commercial or charter. The costing was a relatively easy exercise and we simply made the association between the two.

The point of showing how charter and commercial passengers can have a direct impact on security costs was obvious. Nevertheless, the more important point was that we only exposed the tip of the iceberg in understanding passenger behavior and its impact on airport security.

This in itself could bring about a “revolution” in making the passenger experience more positive and in doing so benefit the commercial interests of airports and perhaps change the perspective of airports as mass processing production lines to service providers. In both cases, everyone wins.


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

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