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SAFETY & SECURITY Last modified on April 13, 2014

Security: Can passenger screening ever be customer friendly?

We all know how the story can go when it comes to a bad experience travelling through an airport. You arrive hours in advance of your flight and then face seemingly never ending queues for check-in, passport control and security.

It is incredibly frustrating, and for the security part of the journey, raises the question, can passenger screening ever be passenger friendly?

Much has been made about the ‘Checkpoint of the Future’, a futuristic people and baggage screening lane that would end the long security lines and frustration. Typically, this scenario involves some borderline-science fiction-esque technology. But is that still the case?

Can existing technology be used to achieve significant improvements in passenger experience? And, what else can be done to ensure the passenger experience is more streamlined?

Keeping ahead of technological advancements

The key challenge for security screening equipment manufacturers is to design solutions that are both flexible and able to adapt to new threats and provide passengers with a stress-free experience.

Much of the current development effort is focused on technologies that remove the need for divestment, whether that is the removal of laptops, liquids from bags or the removal of passenger’s shoes.

We will therefore be seeing a more intuitive checkpoint that is able to take on roles once taken on by airport staff and allow passengers to pass through quicker and easier.  

As a result, checkpoints will see enhanced operational efficiency, whilst ensuring that passengers feel secure and calm. Travelling can create a lot of stress so designs must be able to efficiently guide people through advanced gating and signage systems; this in turn will dramatically speed up passenger throughput, meaning a more positive experience for passengers.

What can passengers carry-on?

The rules and regulations about what is and is not allowed on a flight can be a cause for great frustration. How many times have you had to decant shampoo into small clear bottle yet forgot about the bottle of water you bought earlier meaning your bag has to be searched?

Some relief is now available as the process for easing the restrictions of Liquids, Aerosols and Gels (LAGs) is underway. This phased approached, which began on January 1, 2014, means that soon, passengers will have the freedom to travel with liquids and gels.

The main question for the industry is: will the airports be ready? The LAGs restriction is a phased approach, and with a final deadline of 2016, it would be fair to assume that airports will make a smooth transition to comply within this timeframe.

This means that it will not significantly impact on the passenger experience and instead, with the technology available to meet the requirements, only enhance and speed up the process for passengers.

Could pre-check be the answer?

Taking the need to find a solution for customer satisfaction and security a step further is the TSA’s Pre-Check programme. Pre-Check is a pre-screening programme in the US where passengers agree to background checks prior to arriving at the airport.  

Assuming these checks do not reveal anything potentially dangerous, these passengers are flagged as safe and go through an expedited inspection at the airport, cutting the frustration and time associated with security lines.

It is possible that in five years 90% plus of frequent travellers in the US will have enrolled in the Pre-Check programme. If countries such as the UK and Canada also implemented comparable programmes, the majority of flight routes will be covered, dramatically changing airport security as we know it and making it much more passenger friendly.

The objective of the checkpoint is to enhance safety without inconveniencing passengers, which most industry watchers assumed would mean innovative screening technology. By opting into Pre-Check or a similar programme, the type of technologies required could change dramatically.

Yes, we will still need excellent detection capabilities, but we will also need technology that is operationally efficient, can be operated remotely or integrated easily with other security systems.  

Perhaps in five years time passengers may look back at the old days of long security lines, disrobing and bags being dumped onto stainless steel tables and wonder why pre-screening wasn’t done earlier.  

Do we need a checkpoint in the future?

The checkpoint is here to stay, but perhaps the checkpoint of the future will be enabled by information in conjunction with technology.  

Information is key to security in the cargo world, so why not apply this to travellers and achieve the Checkpoint of the Future earlier with a reduced cost and greater passenger throughput and satisfaction?

• Frederic Brouiller is vice president of sales EMEA for Rapiscan Systems.

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