Dealing with airline security hassles takes some of the thrill away from finding and booking the cheapest airline tickets. But could that be changing? Could getting through airline security be – literally – a breeze within our lifetimes?
Airports are already making changes that will allow passengers to get through security more quickly and with less hassle. And while we may be a generation away from a simple process of identifying ourselves and stepping through a high-tech tunnel that would screen for metals, explosives and other contraband, FareCompare readers can take heart knowing that some aspects of airport security will improve over the next few years.
Technology is only a limited part of improving airport security, and many of the technologies necessary for this are still in the laboratory prototype stage. Some high-tech solutions, like biometric identification and detection of liquid explosives, are being tested at some airports around the world. One piece of progress that many U.S. passengers can be happy about is the retro-fitting of some 500 body scanners at more than 100 U.S. airports with software that creates a more generic outline of passengers’ bodies as they go through the scanners.
Some of the methods for streamlining security are decidedly low-tech. For example, in the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration is moving toward more intelligence-based screening procedures in some airports. This shift is predicated on the idea that the overwhelming majority of passengers pose no threat. One example is “PreCheck,” also known as the “Trusted Traveler Program,” a program that could reduce security wait times by 30 percent. This program supplies TSA agents with information routinely collected on frequent fliers, such as their flight history, home address and how they paid for their tickets. The TSA is now working with Delta and American, selecting some of their “elite” passengers and offering them enrollment in PreCheck, which offers quicker screenings at selected airports. The program is expected to expand this year.
Obstacles to New Security Procedures
The main obstacle to streamlined security procedures is that no screening method is foolproof. For example, a terrorist could take a long view and build up a lengthy, clean travel record to escape scrutiny. There is also the possibility of innocent, trusted travelers being forced to carry dangerous materials through as part of a terrorist extortion plot. Another obstacle is politics. The balance between security and privacy is a heated issue, and the possibility of airlines giving even the perception of passenger profiling is an issue that is very difficult to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction.
Should You Get Your Hopes Up?
Don’t expect a radically different airport security scene in the next few years. Worldwide, airport security checkpoints cleared about 150 people per hour in 2011, and that was down from 220 per hour in 2006. People traveling during major holiday periods can expect security to clear well under 100 passengers per hour at some airports. However, travelers, politicians and industry experts are confident that airport security will undergo some fundamental changes that will be phased in a little at a time. So it’s a good idea to wear easily-removable shoes to the airport for the foreseeable future.