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Security pass

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on airport security and its impact on passengers.

What role does the security experience play in shaping the passenger experience?

It has to be said that the prospect of standing in a long queue at an airport, having to submit to a body search, and then having one’s carefully packed bag taken apart piece by piece by a suspicious official is not something that most people look forward to.

So, what if anything, can be done to make the passenger experience of airport security as good as possible?   

Dealing appropriately with passengers is a challenge. The prime reason for airport security nowadays is to minimise the risk to civil aviation from terrorism. The nature of the role requires security staff to remain alert and open to the possibility that any individual passenger could pose a threat.

Technology can help, but detection of dangerous items still ultimately depends on human judgement. At the same time as having to remain perpetually vigilant, security staff are under pressure to ensure efficient operation and good service. It is a difficult balance to strike.

Fortunately, most people accept that security is a necessity and will put up with a lot if they feel they are being treated fairly, reasonably and professionally. What can help to achieve this?

Educating passengers in advance

Passenger experience is shaped by the gap between expectations and reality. It’s important to find ways of increasing people’s awareness of security before they get there.

For example, letting people know about anticipated queue times helps people to prepare and can make the waiting more acceptable. More generally, those who rarely travel deserve particular attention as they don’t know what to expect, and can cause bottlenecks and problems for themselves and others.

Find ways of engaging and motivating security staff

Security is a challenging area to work in. The environment is busy and bustling with activity. Many of the jobs are shift-based, have a short cycle time and are relentlessly repetitive. Rules and regulations change frequently. As a consequence, turnover is often higher than in other areas.

In these circumstances, it’s important that airport leaders pay attention to their people. Well thought through processes are the foundations. Proper training is essential. Communication is of the essence.

A genuine concern for the wellbeing of security staff also makes a difference. Naples Airport in Italy, for example, has built a relaxation facility close to the work. Feedback on this has been very positive.

Invest in the development of interpersonal skills

People of every possible disposition, background, and culture pass through airport screening. Being treated fairly is the starting point. Thereafter, it’s amazing how much difference a smile, encouraging word, non-verbal behaviour and the style of interacting with colleagues can make.

A professional, considerate and helpful approach to security can transform the passenger experience, reducing the stress for all involved and preventing a bad start to a journey.

Arrivals and departures

Dublin born Dalton Philips is the new chief executive of Irish airport operator, daa, succeeding Kevin Toland, who left earlier this year. He has held a number of senior leadership roles in retail and related industries, working in 14 countries for companies including Walmart, Loblaw (Canada’s leading retailer) and Morrisons. “Daa plays an essential role within the Irish economy, with Dublin and Cork airports alone generating or facilitating more than 100,000 jobs in the Irish economy and contributing the equivalent of 4.4% of GDP,” says Philips. “Our focus will continue to be on providing the best customer experience for the millions of passengers who travel through
our airports every year.”

London City Airport (LCY) has announced that Wilma Allan will become its new chief finance officer in early 2018. She has over 20 years’ experience in finance, procurement, systems and IT management and is currently the CFO for Govia Thameslink Railway. She said: “I relish the opportunity to be involved in adding much needed aviation infrastructure, connecting London and London business to new and emerging global markets and continuing to provide, what I already consider to be, a market leading passenger proposition.”

Con Dooney is Cork Airport’s new general manager of operations and safety. He will have responsibility for leading the Cork Airport operations and asset care teams, ensuring safe, reliable and effective operations.

On the other side of the world, Julia Hoare is expected to join the Board of Auckland Airport as an independent non-executive director. Her appointment, recommended by the Board, will be rubber-stamped by shareholders at the airport’s AGM on October 26.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) has named acting chief security officer, John Bilich, a former NYPD deputy commissioner of operations and chief investigator at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, as its new permanent chief security officer.


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and runs the ACI World Airport Human Resources programme. The next one is in Abu Dhabi, on November 5-8, 2017. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through

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