A look at what the future holds for people screening

Dramatic changes, designed to streamline the baggage screening process, are underway at the checkpoint. Great news, but what does it mean for people screening? It is the interaction between these two streams which defines the efficiency of the overall system.

A core checkpoint component, people screening is rapidly evolving but pick any two airports at random and the procedures will almost certainly be different. Equipment, process, operation and ever-evolving regulations create a multitude of variables: travellers can expect any combination of document checks; metal detection sweep; millimetre-wave scan; trace particle swab; shoe scan; physical search; or other secondary measures before entering the airport secure area.  Escalating security requirements and increasing numbers of travellers result in extended queues and are straining passenger experience (and patience).  So how can we get to the boarding gate in a simpler and less stressful fashion?

People screening technology is providing answers to security questions and expanding the range of prohibited items which can be automatically detected, but at the same time, they tend also to be more sensitive to benign items such as tissues, passports and the other everyday items we all carry around.

Bag scanning technology is now able to eliminate the need to remove laptops and liquids and people screening needs to respond in a similar manner to minimise the removal of garments and ultimately harmless items worn or carried in pockets. Detection capability and technical solutions will continue to evolve and it is possible to envisage systems which combine a high level of screening with a low level of divestment. Higher performing technologies will also reduce the need for supplementary checks and passenger screening may well become a more secure and more user-friendly experience.

At the same time, there is a growing trend towards a broader security assessment of each passenger. This consolidates information from screening not only the person, but also his or her hold and cabin baggage; plus associated information such as flight history and destination, registered traveller profile and other data, which can build up a valuable assessment of an individual’s risk status. Combining advancing technology with a layer of data that adds assurance to the screening process can further facilitate smooth passage through the checkpoint.

Consequently, manipulation of more expansive passenger data is becoming an increasingly important part of the security assessment and decision-making process. The key here is efficient data gathering and intelligent correlation: which poses its own set of new challenges. Accessing personal and flight data will demand the most careful and sensitive handling and add an interesting layer to the checkpoint operation.

The utopian vision of screening passengers and their bags as they casually saunter towards the boarding gate may yet be a while off. However, it seems realistic to look forward to a day when it is possible to pass through airport security with a lot less fuss than we currently endure!