Prisons and Airports are both among the most secure places we have on earth, protected by guards, so that their residents (inmates, passengers) don’t mix with everyone else.
The core difference is that the prison is isolated so that the bad guys stay in, while the airport is isolated so that the bad guys stay out. To get into the airport, you must demonstrate you are safe, while to get into prison, you must be proven to be unsafe.
In the US prison populations and airport passengers have both increased over the decades, though seem to have leveled off in the past few years, such that we are perhaps at both “peak aviation” and “peak prison”.
At most airports, there is a central security at front of the terminal, and then you proceed to your gate, having cleared security. At Schiphol in the Netherlands, security is instead at the departure gate. The metal detectors are fixed, but the security agents move around to the flight that will be soon taking off.
This makes it more painful to change planes, but ensures that the plane won’t take off while there are passengers in the security line for that particular flight. It also ensures that the flight itself is secure, though someone might have snuck through another airport with less rigorous security. It also gives waiting passengers something to do, without having to be nervous about getting to the gate on-time.
I always thought this was an intentional design feature, which just had not been replicated at other airports due to the fixed costs of creating more controlled waiting environments, but it turns out to be considered more of a bug, since the European Investment Bank is lending Schiphol EUR 200 million to remodel the airport to make it more typical.
Els de Groot, Chief Financial Officer of Schiphol Group said “We welcome the EIB’s continued support for our airport investments, following successful funding by the EIB in the last decade of other important Schiphol projects including the fifth runway and the 70 MB baggage system programme. To remain Europe’s preferred airport we will invest an additional EUR 500 million in the coming years. An important part of this is directly related to creation of a central security facility for the entire terminal. Gate security checks for flights to non-Schengen destinations will disappear and be replaced by five central security filters. This will both improve passenger comfort and significantly enhance the efficiency of the passenger handling process for both the airport and airlines”.
I wrote this letter to Senator Mark Dayton in 2002 concerning Airline security. Given his crackerjack reputation overall and for constituent services, I suppose it is no surprise that I received no response.
July 29, 2002
The Honorable Senator Mark Dayton
SR-346, Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, District of Columbia 20510Dear Senator Dayton,
I write to you concerning airport security policy. The recently created Transportation Security Administration is (or will soon be) responsible for screening passengers at all major airports. A large portion of their cost is paid by a passenger ticket tax that is uniform for all passengers. Yet airlines (to be specific, United Airlines at Chicago O’Hare as one example), are giving privileged access to those security terminals to “first class”? and other “priority passengers”?. Those passengers paid more for their tickets to get a better seat on the plane, and other benefits from United Airlines. They did not pay to get better security, yet they are getting first dibs on passage through the security line. This is because United Airlines is managing the line approaching security to ensure this (they are not managing the security itself). This strikes me as a loophole and against the spirit of the rules, if not the letter. These privileged passengers are jumping the queue; thereby making other passengers, who paid exactly the same security tax, wait longer. This is worse than allowing people to pay to drive in a toll lane parallel to a free lane – which you opposed on I-394 several years ago. I believe this is unfair, and I thought this policy had been eliminated already. While money and wealth do buy some advantages in our society, everyone should be equal under the law. Police service should not be faster for the rich than the poor. I urge you to investigate this matter and rectify this situation. Lines are capable of managing themselves, as shown throughout the transportation sector, without airline herders giving advantages to some travelers at the expense of others. This is particularly pertinent given the large subsidies the airlines are receiving over the past year.
Please contact me at the above address if you, or your staff, wish to discuss further,