Six Things We Can and Should Do to Fix Airport Security

Automated bins are coming. But we've got some more ideas.

November 21, 2016 9:00 am

If you’re already dreading the holiday travel season, we get it. It’s a nightmare. Especially if you’re flying, and hence at the mercy of forces beyond your control standing squarely between you and your mom’s turkey. 

There is a small amount of light in an otherwise dark scene: the arrival of automated bins — known officially as Automated Security Lines, or ASLs — to select airports in time for Thanksgiving travel. Imagine bigger, faster versions of the gray bins we have now, and you’ve pretty much got it. That understates their success, though: ASLs move 30 percent quicker than traditional ones.

That’s substantial — but it’s not the end of security line innovation. Below, a few more ideas on the way that should make airports a less annoying place, from “about to happen” to “in an ideal world.”

Pre-clearance spreads: If you’ve ever “crossed” the U.S. frontier while still at, say, Dublin airport, you’ve enjoyed the magic of pre-clearance — it makes arrival in the U.S. no more complicated coming from overseas than from, say, Ft. Lauderdale. Look for it next in Stockholm, with more cities on the way. 

Researchers at Northeastern University are developing scanning technology that would be essentially seamless: You walk through a checkpoint and get scanned, all without breaking stride. Says Wired: “They will walk through an arch or a tunnel at normal pace, and be scanned in real time.” It’s not science fiction — in fact, it could be in airports by 2020. 

Now under trial at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, hand-held baggage scanners allow travelers to leave laptops and liquids in their luggage — even if, for some reason, those liquids would still need to go in plastic bags. 

London City Airport is experimenting with playing calming music during the check-in process, from airport entry to arrival at the departure gates. An airport spokesperson said one popular selection was Ed Sheeran and Jason Mraz; here’s hoping that particular innovation stays overseas. 

Our own suggestion: entirely independent security wings for families with children. If you have children, maybe you think this is a terrible idea. If you don’t — and you’ve ever seen a kindergartener wander back and forth through the X-ray scanner like a salmon in a neck pillow — well, we’re confident we have your vote.


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