Airport Security Around the World

Few aspects of travel are more frustrating than the dreaded airport security screening, no matter which airport is the first of your journey. The TSA officer doesn’t even have to complete asking “Is this your bag?” for you to know you won’t be getting to your gate anytime soon.

Whether or not you think the post-9/11 U.S. airport security system makes travelers safer, few travelers disagree that dealing with it has gotten old over the past decade. But what sort of hoops, you might ask, are airline passengers in other countries meant to jump through?

Are We Safer in the Air Since 9/11?

Not surprisingly, many are modeled after the U.S. system, while some are actually more lenient – but some airport security procedures around the world might even make you thankful for the system that currently exists in the United States.

Mandatory Pat Downs
With the 2010 introduction of full body scanners that quite literally see everything, many American travelers felt like they no longer had a choice when it came to protecting their privacy while flying. The choice was simple: Either submit to the intrusive scan or opt out and have an intrusive pat down.

In some places around the world, however, pat downs are actually mandatory. In India for example, where the last incidence of large-scale terrorism is much more recent. The silver lining to this practice, if there is one, is that men and women are placed into separate lines and screened only by members of the same gender.

Interview Me?
Headed to Tel Aviv? No matter which airport in the world you depart, you’ll be subjected to a one-on-one interview with a security officer if you fly to Israel on El Al, the Jewish state’s national airline. To make matters worse, El Al requires that all passengers arrive at the check-in counter no less than three hours before the flight departs.

Regardless of which airline you take to Israel, it isn’t uncommon to face extremely long waits getting into Israel, particularly if you have stamps from Arab countries with which Israel is at war – all of them except Egypt and Jordan, as of 2012 – in your passport. It’s frustrating, but not surprising in a country where enemy rockets still regularly fall.

TSA Begins Testing New “Faster, Easier” Security Lines

Unofficial Officials
Just because travelers have to adhere to certain protocols in order to be able to fly doesn’t mean the officials who regulate traveler behavior must also do so. At Xi’an Airport in western China in June 2010, for example, I was checked in by a plainclothes teenager who was using his personal laptop computer to complete the operation.

This wasn’t a one-off either. Prior to boarding a Kuwait Airlines flight to Manila at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in early 2011, I had my bag searched by a man who walked off the plane wearing jeans and a T-shirt and who took a call on what appeared to be a personal cellphone after he “screened” me.

No ID, Thank You
Although restrictions have been loosened in the years that have passed since 9/11, it still sometimes feels like you have to show your ID an inordinate number of times in order to board a plane in the U.S. This is even more pronounced in the European Union, where you still need to show ID at the gate before you take your seat.

In Australia, however, you need not show ID at all if you’re only flying domestically – in some instances. Specifically, if you have your reservation ID and check yourself in at an automated kiosk, you will never once have to show identification prior to getting on your flight, neither before passing through security, nor at the gate.

Avoiding the Long Waits at Airport Security Lines

The American Way
Although some aberrations in airport security procedures do exist around the world, the fact is that the American system is effectively the standard for global airport security, or at least a bare minimum prior to international flights. This is particular the case in countries that enjoy nonstop air service to the United States.

How will you know what sort of airport security procedures to expect when you travel internationally? The easiest way to figure it out is simply to watch what other travelers are doing. Don’t see anyone else removing their shoes? Don’t take yours off. Likewise, if everyone in front of you has had to submit to a pat down, you will almost certainly need to as well.


About the author

Robert Schrader is a travel writer/photographer and editor of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, your source for destination information, travel photos, practical travel advice and inspirational travel essays. Robert’s writing and photography has been published on websites such as CNNGo, Tripping and Shanghaiist and in print publications like That’s Shanghai and East & West magazines. Robert’s travels have thus far taken him to more than 40 countries and to all six inhabited continents. Follow the Twitter feed, “Like” the Facebook page or add Robert to one of your Google+ circles.


Published: February 29, 2012