Walking the Security Tightrope

July 1, 2015

Passengers want airports to be inviting, hospitable, comfortable and free flowing, but also want them to be as tight as Fort Knox from a security standpoint. The same passengers scream like the Tasmanian Devil if tight security inconveniences them in any way

Pre 9/11/01 we pax had free run of dang near the whole airport. Nobody checked IDs. When friends/family flew in, we met them at the gate. If you bought a non-refundable ticket then couldn’t use it you could give—or sell—that ticket to someone else and they could use it. We could park near the terminal. Life was easy.

 Today, the public still has relatively open access within the pre-TSA part of the airport. To go through TSA, however, you’d better wake up, straighten up and—pun intended—fly right. You can’t get through unless you’ve got the right papers and your carry-on paraphernalia better be packed right. Heaven help you if you beep!

 Now it’s gong to get worse—or better, depending upon whom you ask. It’s likely to be slightly less convenient, because security will be expanded, but safer, because of that tightened security.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International—the world’s busiest airport—plans to screen nearly all employees by the end of this year, thus adding about $4.5 million to the airport budget. This is being done partly because a gun-smuggling operation involving a baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson was uncovered late last year. “The bad publicity is really hurting us,” Aviation General Manager Miguel Southwell said.

I’m glad to see tighter airport security. I just hope we can keep it simple, refuse to panic, let our professionals lead the way and keep media and Congress from overreacting too much and too fast.

I believe that the people who know the most—and can do the most—about airport security are those currently operating our airports. Perhaps they can get the job done before the screamers push their own agendas too far. I still remember when our country was trying to decide how to select the very first astronauts. There was talk of testing circus performers, race drivers and athletes, searching for the “right stuff.” President Eisenhower called BS, saying “We’ve got test pilots for that.”

I also remember when Congress—not the FAA, but Congress—reacting to a fatal crash including one of their members, mandated ELT usage pretty much across the board. The industry was literally incapable of building ELT batteries fast enough and it crated a mess.

Well-qualified people run our airports. They talk, meet and mingle with each other to come up with solutions to problems. As Christopher Bidwell, Vice President of Security and Facilitation at ACI-NA put it, “Airport Directors and security professionals at airports routinely work together to ensure the security of travelers. In addition, ACI-NA offers a forum for our airport members to discuss aviation security initiatives and share best practices.”