Air travel has become an integral part of our lives. For business or leisure, millions of people fly every day. The airline industry strives to make air travel convenient, comfortable and affordable. However, the threat of terrorism has forced a tradeoff between convenience and security. Advanced security screening procedures can cause delays and hassles for travelers, but they are necessary to keep air travel safe.
Security screening at airports has intensified dramatically since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Prior to 9/11, airport security was minimal. Travelers simply walked through a metal detector and bags were rarely inspected. But after 9/11, authorities recognized the need for heightened security measures. New procedures were implemented by transportation agencies like the TSA in the U.S.
All passengers must now pass through body scanners or metal detectors. Shoes, jackets, and belts must be removed for screening. Liquids are restricted in carry-on luggage. Laptops must be removed from bags. These measures are intrusive and slow down the screening process, but they mitigate the risk of a terrorist sneaking a weapon onboard. Profiling techniques are used to focus on high-risk passengers. Air marshals are covertly placed on flights. Cockpit doors have been reinforced to prevent unauthorized access.
Yet there are tradeoffs between security and convenience. Long security lines mean travelers must get to the airport earlier. Laptop and liquid restrictions hamper productivity and comfort. Pat downs and body scanners feel like an invasion of privacy to some. Profiling can lead to discrimination against certain passengers. Mass surveillance methods tread a fine line between security and erosion of civil liberties. The financial costs of these security measures are also passed along to travelers through higher ticket prices.
Some say air travel security has become excessive. They argue the likelihood of a terrorist incident is too small to justify the magnitude of these measures. Resources could be better spent elsewhere. The inconvenience and privacy violations outweigh the security benefit. But security experts say today’s threats require these strict procedures. As technology progresses, terrorists find new ways to evade security. Authorities must stay a step ahead. A single successful attack would be devastating.
Recent years have seen a push to incorporate new technologies that enhance both security and convenience. “Backscatter” X-ray machines allow screeners to see under clothing but also let travelers avoid pat downs. Explosives detection portals can screen for traces of explosive materials without the need to remove shoes. Biometric identification like facial recognition and retina scans can accelerate ID verification. Artificial intelligence and big data analytics can improve threat predictive modeling. These innovations aim to streamline the passenger experience without compromising security.
In the end, some tradeoff between convenience and security is inevitable. Air transport systems must focus their efforts on technologies and policies that optimize both. Travelers may have to accept some hassle as the “new normal” in exchange for safe air corridors. But with thoughtful innovation and risk management, airlines and regulators can find the right balance. The lessons learned from aviation security may also have applications in other public venues like hotels, entertainment centers and mass transit systems. Reasonable security measures that “raise the bar” against terrorism need not preclude an efficient and enjoyable travel experience.