August 17, 2007

Inane Filipino Airport Security
Cebu City (Cebu), Philippines

Please, someone tell me what the rational is behind the absurd "double x-ray" at the airports in this country.

Here's the scenario: I'm walking around with Tatiana in the domestic departures terminal of the Cebu City airport, searching for a ticketing agent that can check us in for our flight to Manila. The signs in this structure aren't particularly helpful, and we decide to proceed towards an oddly out of place security checkpoint.

Queuing for reasons I didn't understand, we could see the airline ticketing agents a few dozen meters behind the checkpoint. Security was not only screening all baggage through an x-ray machine, but also passing people through a metal detector and verifying that passengers had reason to go beyond (proof of flight, such as a electronic ticket printout).

I had my itinerary printed out, but Tatiana had modified her flight over the phone, and had nothing but her original ticket out of Manila with her. After arguing with the broken-English speaking security officer for a bit, he finally bounced us out of line and pointed down the hall of the terminal.

I tried to sort out the madness in my head: You need a ticket to get to the airline ticketing agent—the people where you buy tickets from—without a ticket you can't get a ticket. Not only that, but they're screening all the baggage before you even get the opportunity to check items that you aren't suppose to take on the flight (such as knives and liquids). I was baffled… Maybe there's a problem with people robbing the ticketing agents with pistols, I thought.

At the end of the concourse we found an Cebu Pacific airlines office that helped sort Tatiana out, while I wondered about the nonsensical process we were about to endure for no good reason.

On the opposite side of the x-ray and metal detector the staff spoke to me as I was picking up my bag, hurried checked in for the flight.

"You've got knives in there," one said.

"Yep," I replied, curtly.

"You'll have to check that bag," the staffer continued.

"I was planning on it," I answered, walking away from him.

As a former student and developer of process improvement in operational environments, this sort of thing gets under my skin. It's almost like someone ordered a few too many x-ray machines, and officials, scrambling to cover up their mistake, tossed a checkpoint at the entrance to the row of airline agents.

So after checking in, it seems to duties of airline ticket purchases have been removed from the agents. Their job is solely to check bags and print tickets. So that now the process looks something like this: Buy ticket from office in terminal, phone, or Internet; pass through security; check in for flight and hand over any baggage; pass through security, again; wait for flight; give ticket to gate agent, slipping my non-regulation backpack past the staff; fly.

The only thing that I can really think of is that there are so many Filipinos flying that don't understand what you can and can't bring on flights that there's a need to warn passengers about the contents of their (perceived) carry-on items. That, or there's such a problem with Islamic terrorism from the south that officials are afraid someone will detonate something further inside the structure. Who knows—all I see another invasive, unnecessary bottleneck.



Craig |

January 17th, 2008

In an essay on the New York Times blog, Clark Ervin argues that airport security should begin at the front door to the airport: "Like many people, I spend a lot of time in airport terminals, and I often think that they must be an awfully appealing target to terrorists. The largest airports have huge terminals teeming with thousands of passengers on any given day. They serve as conspicuous symbols of American consumerism, with McDonald's restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops and Disney toy stores. While airport screeners do only a so-so job of checking for guns, knives and bombs at checkpoints, there's no checking for weapons before checkpoints. So if the intention isn't to carry out an attack once on board a plane, but instead to carry out an attack on the airport itself by killing people inside it, there's nothing to stop a terrorist from doing so."

And: "To prevent smaller attacks — and larger ones that could be catastrophic — what if we moved the screening checkpoints from the interior of airports to the entrance? The sooner we screen passengers' and visitors' persons and baggage (both checked and carry-on) for guns, knives and explosives, the sooner we can detect those weapons and prevent them from being used to sow destruction."

This is a silly argument. If you're worried about explosions on the ground, any place you put security checkpoints is arbitrary. The point of airport security is to prevent terrorism *on the airplanes*, because airplane terrorism is a more serious problem than conventional bombs blowing up in crowded buildings. (Four reasons. First, airlines are often national symbols. Second, airplanes often fly to dangerous countries. Third, for whatever reason, airplanes are a preferred terrorist target. And fourth, the particular failure mode of airplanes means that even a small bomb can kill everyone on board. That same bomb in an airport means that a few people die and many more get injured.) And most airport security measures aren't effective.

His bias betrays itself primary through this quote: "Like many people, I spend a lot of time in airport terminals, and I often think that they must be an awfully appealing target to terrorists."

If he spent a lot of time in shopping malls, he would probably think they must be awfully appealing targets as well. They also "serve as conspicuous symbols of American consumerism, with McDonald's restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops and Disney toy stores." He sounds like he's just scared.

Face it; there are far too many targets. Stop trying to defend against the tactic, and instead try to defend against terrorism. Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Real security happens long before anyone gets to an airport, a shopping mall, or wherever.

The United States


March 19th, 2010

You are so right. If anyone wants to blow up American symbols they will do it other places, not just airports. For some reason airport security has always been an issue everywhere in the world. Maybe the "wise" men who write up the policies for the security hope to scare people off, it's kind of like a show of power. "Don't try to smuggle anything, we can see right through you." Intimidation point. I know everytime I travel my stress level goes through the roof at the check point, for no reason what so ever.

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