Hassle at airport security
Akhbar Satar 
Passengers retrieve their bags after passing through screening at a checkpoint at Salt Lake City airport in Utah, US. Travellers are encouraged to arrive at the airport two to three hours prior to their flight times

ON Sept 11 2001, when Al-Qaeda members took control and hijack of four airplanes flew them into the World Trade Centre towers and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people, the world airport security landscape and efforts changed forever.

As a result of the Sept 11 attacks, airport security is one of the biggest concerns for passengers these days. If you are a frequent air traveller you will realise that the security process at airports around the world, especially since this incident has suffered added layers of security. Many overseas airports require a secondary security check. Obviously, the airport security is tougher, stricter than ever and more important than ever. Travelling can be more stressful and frustrated, especially considering the increased security at airports nowadays.

Screening officers at the airport use various types of screening technologies and procedures to prevent passengers from carrying prohibited items beyond the checkpoint. Passengers entering the secure area of the airport have to undergo stricter pre-board screening. For this reason, physical checks such as walk-through metal detector, hand-held metal detector, full-body scanner, and partial or full pat-down, explosives trace detection.

In this case, a few airports are experimenting with 3D X-ray technology to provide a better, more accurate and secure passenger screening process. But airports such as Heathrow and several others in Europe are using liquid and bottle scanners and shoe scanners. As a matter of fact, the airport security authorities have been gradually rolling out the enhanced security checks at airports across the globe.


Longer screening process

That means at any airport, passengers have to separate all their electronic gadgets and remove shoes, belts, sweaters, shirts, watches and their jackets. The screening process will lead to longer and slower security lines. It’s just part of flying that passengers have come to live with today. This makes travelling more miserable, uncomfortable, a nuisance and troublesome.

All of this hassle is caused by none other than Osama bin Laden. Osama had shaken up and changed the landscape of the entire aviation security industry as a result of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks which no one would have ever thought could have happened. It seemed that terrorists, not the airport security authorities, make the rules and regulations. Passengers are becoming more fearful.

Before the Sept 11 attacks, flying was a much better experience as the security was a very normal and straightforward process where passengers need not worry about having a bag of cologne in the baggage. Passengers were allowed to bring scissors, knitting needles, box cutter, baseball bats and blades up to four inches long aboard a plane. These items are not considered threatening, menacing and dangerous. The best part, the passengers would not have to take out their laptop or shoes and belts off when going through security screenings. There was no long line up, overcrowding, hassle or problem when they passed through the security officials.


Standard excuse

Worse still, later all airport security officials had to conduct tight, intrusive passenger screening and banned all liquids from carry-on luggage after terrorists attempted to blow up airplanes destined for Canada and the United States. The standard excuse is that this is somehow preventing the terrorists from carrying chemicals that can later be combined to create a bomb. Explosives can be made from combining different liquids. Another addition transition, a month later, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) amended the rule and allowed passengers to carry on liquids, gels and aerosols in containers that held no more than 100ml of liquid through an airport security checkpoint.

Furthermore, with the increasing number of high profile terrorist and contraband smuggling activities across the world is a major factor driving the airport security market growth. The US airports are continuously increasing the security measures in the wake of dual terrorist attacks in Paris and Al-Qaeda has published detailed instructions on how to build a “hidden bomb” to blow up a passenger jet recipe to be used by their followers.

In addition, the US intelligence sources also stated that Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are believed to be working on explosives that can fit inside electronic devices and would not be detectable by airport security systems. In October, Britain allocated £3 mil (RM16.5 mil) to support new technology to screen hand luggage in airports in a bid to detect concealed explosives.

Frost & Sullivan released a report entitled Global Airport Security Technology Market Assessment early in March 2015, which found that the airport security marketing the US earned revenues of US$8.22 bil (RM34.29 bil) in 2014 and estimated that this could increase to US$12.67 bil by 2023. As a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US$650 bil has been spent on homeland security to, among other things, beef up protection at airports, train stations, stadiums and other places that draw large crowds.

Moreover, it is estimated that TSA spends 70% of its US$7.55 bil on aviation security yearly.

Based on the International Air Transport Association, whose members include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and more than 200 global airlines, the main airports were struggling to cope up with the mounting layers of safety regulations that now cost the financially-troubled industry US$7.4 bil a year to implement.

The new regulations gave the federal government direct responsibility for all airport screenings, a job that was previously outsourced to private security companies.

Research showed that more than 20% of overseas business travellers who visited the US said that they would not visit the country again due to onerous entry procedures at the airport, including long process lines or requiring a secondary security check.

Local US travellers preferred to drive instead of flying to some local cities to avoid the massive long lines at many airports, resulting in officials encouraging people to arrive at the airport two to three hours prior to their flight times. But some passengers are fearful of airport security and also the possible security loopholes.

The airport security professionals continually evaluate the latest threats and screening equipment and measures which are implemented based on the latest intelligence. As always, passengers may notice a variety of security measures especially at US and European airports.

Security screening at airports will still be a nuisance, hassle and definitely increase the cost of travel to passengers. But in essence, the issue of airport delays are also costing businesses millions of dollars. Even though airport security procedures are unpleasant but it is necessary inconvenience to maintain the highest level of security.

Datuk Akhbar Satar is a criminologist and certified fraud examiner. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 260.