I am starting to wonder whether anyone really understands how to design and implement airport security checks in ways that ensure that they work yet don’t overly inconvenience the passengers, and has enough global consistancy that we all believe that it makes sense.

As stated in the AAP (Associated Press), London on 28th October 2010 …

« European officials accused the United States of imposing unnecessary and overly intrusive air travel security measures, calling on the Obama administration Wednesday to re-examine policies ranging from X-raying shoes to online security checks for Europeans.
The crux of the issue is every traveler’s question of how much security is sufficient and how much delay is tolerable – and whether it’s time for a review of security measures that have accumulated in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. »

The debate flared a day after British Airways Chairman Martin Broughton accused the U.S. of demanding “completely redundant” security checks at airports, such as removing shoes and separate examinations of laptop computers.
Europe should not have to “kowtow to the Americans every time they want something done” to beef up security on U.S.-bound flights, Broughton said.

It all seems to be so ad hoc as to be incomprehensible.

It starts at the high end of the scale at Atlanta airport where one has to go through X-ray and screening processes to actually be allowed to leave the airport, as though one would have tried to smuggle explosives onto an aircaraft, across oceans and international boundaries just to try and bomb Elton John’s home. The other end of the scale are internal flights in New Zealand where they have no security screening process at all of passengers who are boarding flights on aircraft of 90 seats or less, I guess in the belief that these puddle jumpers would not be attractive to terrorists, and anyway who would want to terrorise middle-earth other than Orcs and Trolls.

By Nick Gray from Atlanta, GA, USA (Airport Security) (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

In Europe every airport has it’s own interpretation, some asking you to remove your shoes (I am always amazed at how many people wear socks with large holes), some not trusting wrist watches, some insisting on removal of trouser belts, some wanting PCs removed from bags for separate screening, some wanting the plastic bag of toiletries separately displayed and others not … the inconsistancy is amazing.

I once had a pair of nail clippers confiscated at Gatwick airport in London in case I had thoughts of hijacking the aircraft by threatening the pilot with a bad manicure, have had a 100 ml plastic bottle of shampoo taken away at Bordeaux airport because it didn’t have a label, as though 100 ml plastic bottles with labels were safer, and at Heathrow I was asked to remove a small metal pin from my tie that I always use to stop it from flopping around, just in case it had been tipped in curare.

We seem to be leaving these decisions, and interpretations, to people with little education and minimal on the job training, but with significantly more power than one should accord them.

The web site for Airline and Aviation jobs outlines airport security screening job requirements as …

« These are entry-level jobs, requiring only a high school diploma. All training is provided on the job, although most new hires will have to take a 12-hour instructional class. »

I feel so much more secure in the knowledge that « most » (note that not all) have had 12 hours of instruction, which I am sure is mainly on « how to puff up with importance and look threatening ».

Just to wind it all up another notch, airports around the world are now installing insulated cabinets that will house full body X-Ray machines that are not only precise enough to be able to detect hidden explosives, but will also be able to determine the religion of male travellers.

I see this as totally the wrong approach.

Instead, I believe that every passenger should be asked to step into a bomb-proof cabinet, where technology is used to detonate any explosive devices, plastics, contraband etc that are secreted anywhere on the body. That would at least make any would be terrorist think twice about hiding things in his underwear, and give us all global consistancy, without having to rely on the arbitrary décisions of the feeble-minded in positions of power at airports.



  1. nicola says:

    Well said , Les . Totally agree , it seems that provincal airports in the UK have the longest queues , the least staff and very arbituary rules . Bristol confiscated my lip salve………

  2. Brian Harrmer says:

    And long may Middle earth ignore the nonsense that goes on outside her borders. In fact a lady with a history of “issues” did try to hijack a little Jetstream and wanted the pilot to divert to Australia (never mind that it hasn’t the required range). The government thought about changing the rules and sensibly decided not to.

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Brian,
      Does this mean that Australia has become the “Cuba of Asia Pac” ?
      “Take me to Cuba” used to be the cry of hijackers … somehow “Take me to Uluru” doesn’t have the same menacing ring to it.

  3. leshayman says:

    Hi Nicola,
    I can understand about the confiscation of the lip salve … security staff can get very dry lips in an airport environment 🙂

  4. Great post, Les. I travel less and less because all this shit just drives me bonkers. All a result of 9/11 and other outrages, of course, but I haven’t seen many changes for security at underground or mainline stations since the London bombings in 2005. And you’re right. All the UK airports have different approaches.
    I don’t understand why customers can’t be assessed for the potential risk they pose. A Tesco club card would probably do the trick.
    Our mutual friend, Anthony Barton, said to me that the only reason he would sell his Chateau would be to afford a private jet, to avoid all the security nonsense.

  5. leshayman says:

    Hi Gav,
    I agree about train travel.
    I use the TGV to Paris rather than fly, even though it is actually now pricier.
    Arrive at station 5 minutes before departure rather than 1+ hour at airport, no x-rays, no cavity searches etc etc. and I can carry little bottles of 110ml and not have them confiscated.

  6. Roisin says:

    Well said! I too had 100ml bottles of toiletries confiscated on the grounds that they had no label! Insane. But no one has ever questioned my battery operated toothbrush which, with the brush removed, is like a drill, lol as they say.

  7. Les,
    spot on.
    You might find this interesting .
    Bruce is one of the world’s experts on security. He coined the term security theatre to describe the airport process.

  8. Vicky says:

    Great blog, as always Les, I’m still chuckling about the clippers. Airport security is not only inconsistent, its somewhat ineffective, too – twice in the last year I arrived home and started to unpack, only to find the bottle of hand cream or nail varnish that I forgot to put back into the clear bag, so it seems a bit pointless at times.

  9. leshayman says:

    I’m surprised you weren’t arrested Vicky, particularly for the nail varnish.

  10. Sam Bodeen says:

    I love the bomb-proof cabinet option, it makes more sense than all the other useless options, the only person being put at disadvantage is the crazy who wants to take their own life, we could help them on their way.
    Sam B

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