Why Is Airport Security Frozen In Time?

The attacks that felled New York’s twin towers occurred a little more than 18 years ago—in September of 2001. Soon after that, stricter security procedures were implemented at airports. They involved, and still involve, basically—passengers  removing belt, coat and sometimes shoes, emptying pockets, taking laptops out of bags and putting all these items onto trays that pass along a moving belt through a scanner. Passengers then walk through a metal detector.

The entire experience is inundated with trays, trays, trays.

Fundamentally, the same system is still used at thousands of airports in hundreds of countries. There are variations at different locations and airports, but basically it’s the same: Off with belt, coat, sometimes shoes, empty pockets, remove laptop and put everything on trays before walking through a scanner. The system has been fundamentally the same— for millions and millions and millions of passengers—for about 17 years now.

Think about that.

More importantly, think about how many technological advances have taken place in the world during those same years. As you do so, consider this question: why have airport security procedures for passengers fundamentally not improved for almost two decades?

Here are a few technological advances that have taken place in the last 17 years.

The first ever iPhone was released in 2007 (about 5 years after we began putting belts on trays at airports). It has undergone almost a dozen evolutions since. About 2.2 million apps have been developed to make life easier while we use our phones on the move.

The final sequencing of the human genome occurred in 2003.

Skype was founded in 2003, and Facebook began revolutionizing global social communications in 2004.

YouTube began in 2005.

Uber began in 2009—some eight years after you began taking that laptop out of your bag at airport security.

In 2010 the first completely artificial cells were completed.

The Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in 2012, and has been exploring ever since.

And if you traveled on an airplane in 2012, you were still taking your belt off and putting it on a tray.

Just two months ago an explorer descended to more than three miles below the ocean—to a depth of 18,208 feet, or 5,550 meters.

Since 2012, the technology to allow vehicles to ‘self-drive’ has increased drastically.

In 2013, researchers at Cornell University 3-D printed an outer ear that functions much as a real one.

Since 2013, bionic eyes are increasing in prevalence and quality.

In 2017 gene therapy was used to cure a teenager of sickle cell diseases.

In 2019, astronomers captured the first image of a black hole.

And, yes, you and millions of others still have to empty your pockets and put the contents on a tray at any airport.

Yes, most of us are DELIGHTED that airport security is thorough, and the processes do work to  reduce the threat of danger. Fantastic!

However—I suspect that through a bidding process and technical innovations, such systems could be altered in a way so that they become quicker, and easier (and still remain secure).

That’s something to think about that the next time you, and millions of fellow passengers, pick up your tray and struggle with taking off your belt or coat at the airport.


Comments from Readers

  • Excellent article! Amazing to think of how far we have advanced, yet a key component – air travel – is stagnant. Keep shedding light on this subject.

  • Tom

    From David Gollob, Via Facebook:

    ‘great observations, as usual!’

  • Tom

    from nicla mambretti, via facebook (nicla spent 4 years teaching me italian when i lived in switzerland):

    Mon Dieu! Oh TOM! Tu es tout simplement formid(i)able. Tu voles toujours plus haut sur tes ailes. Quand je te lis, “tu me fais tourner la tête” et je suis prête à tomber dans les pommes. Au secours!! Aide-moi à témoigner toute ma fierté pour TOM=ToutOrgueilManifesté.

    Or, in english:

    My God! Oh TOM! You are simply great. You always fly higher on your wings. When I read you, “you make me turn my head” and I’m ready to fall for apples. Help!! Help me to show all my pride for TOM = All pride shown

  • Tom

    From Gill Blane –

    Food for thought Tom – I’ll think of you next time I fly………..

  • Noting that part of the challenge of airport security is wide international agreement on an acceptable standard. While it’s conceivable a unitary authority could mandate a world wide change, I predict that is still far off.

  • Tom

    If one nation, such as the U.S., led the way to reduce inefficiency through the use of better screening technology, others would rapidly follow. Removing belts and using trays should be ancient history by now …

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