After the attempted Christmas Day bombing and resulting ramp up in airport security it was with some apprehension that I headed to London’s Heathrow airport for my return flight to the U.S. this past weekend.
New airport security rules were in effect for flights going to the U.S. and extra screening of passengers and hand baggage at the gate could be expected. The manual search was painstaking as every one of the more than 250 passengers was patted down and had the contents of their bags and footwear reviewed. As our flight finally departed some two hours later than its scheduled take off, I had to question the effectiveness of this risk management process.
Wouldn’t the use of advanced equipment such as a body scanner or extra questioning of passengers be more relevant? There were some changes on board the aircraft too. The use of blankets and pillows by passengers during take off and landing were restricted. Also, as we approached the U.S. the in-flight video navigation system was turned off and we were told that no information on the status of our flight was available.
An article in the New York Times over the weekend made the point that the extra security measures cannot be sustainable from an operational point of view on an ongoing basis. It also described practical steps taken by one airline captain who walked down the aircraft aisle before his flight left from Europe, greeting each passenger to see who wanted to make eye contact and to check that everyone was acting vaguely normal. Just yesterday Obama administration officials announced intensified screening for passengers from 14 nations who are flying to the U.S. However, for American citizens and most others not flying through these 14 nations, extra security steps will be relaxed.
The shifting nature of these additional security measures and the contrasting methods taken to airport security around the world appear to suggest that no one system has the answer. And this in turn raises more questions for air passengers and airport security officials in the days and weeks ahead.