Could we please start securing airports using consistent processes & modern technology?

While watching the horrible news on Bruxelles, I wanted to reflect on what happened to me a few months ago.

My wife & I were checking in in Frankfurt Airport for our vacation in China. For that trip I was bringing my brand new camera backpack, the thing was about 48 hours old, so first use. At security screening the folks decided to have another check specifically for the backpack – and I was (and still am) absolutely fine with that, as I rather have one check too many than one not enough.

So this was the flow:

Security officer wiped my backpack, let the machine do its thing and was really astonished when an alert come from the machine stating “TNT detected”. The security guy was absolutely clueless on how to proceed and so asked a colleague to came over. The colleague gave the advice to run a second test. Same response “TNT detected”. Now we had two helpless security folks standing with us, calling for the third. The third one was at least more impressing from looks – she was wearing uniform & weapon and made a decisive impression…for a few seconds until she also started to stare at the evaluation results with astonishment. We exchanged a few words, trying to understand how this could happen until my wife said “By the way, this backpack is brand new”. All three officers now found back to a happy smile and we were told “Oh, that’s OK then, it’s probably the chemicals from the production process. Have a nice trip!”

I guess everyone understands this is really not what I would expect from airport security – I would have expected something like the following (and I do know airports like e.g. Heathrow have systems & processes like this in place)

  • System detects (or assumes) TNT (well, that was done)
  • System is to notify a) the guy in front of the machine on next steps and b) call an educated authority in the background to get help (fast) to the helpless guy
  • Process is to make sure nobody gets close to my backpack until issue cleared

As none of this happened, I was not really feeling secure when entering the flight – I need to say that (and I’ve been flying a real lot in my life) the airports in China in general give you a more secure feeling than the ones in Europe (with a few exceptions)

Point is, there will never be 100% security, there will never be 100% process coverage and there will never be 100% adequately trained people doing the job. But with accepting those facts, at least please put in place the right processes and technologies (like in the example above just connecting the inspection machine to a workflow / business process management layer to automatically deduct next steps). it’s like in the good old SAP workflow days I had 20+ years ago – there will be unknown return codes, so make sure an unknown return code is routed to the best team in charge to understand if the process is to be change, a new action to be defined etc. Don’t let users without the respective know-how try to deal with it.

Just booked my next flights – thoughts with the victims in Bruxelles


One thought on “Could we please start securing airports using consistent processes & modern technology?

  1. So true, Chris, about airport security – apparently perceived security as they are not trained properly. Security gates at most airports are stressed and non-effective making it rather easy to make mistakes (it doesn’t make it better that most passengers appear unable to understand how it works). I have not been TNT-positive tested but had a (rather large) juice pack in my carry-on once that the x-ray scanner operators found suspect. We ware taken to an office, where a person who appeared very important let us wait for a couple of minutes and then we could leave. I don’t think any value was added by this gentleman – maybe it was to test our reactions? Unfortunately I have forgot which airport it was…


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