What Does Airport Security Look Like Post-COVID?

What Does Airport Security Look Like Post-COVID?

DALLAS – As the world enters a post-COVID period, many wonder how the pandemic has impacted the future of airport security.

Will some procedures adopted during the public health emergency remain for the long term? Here’s a closer look at the possibilities.

Photo: TSA

The Removal of Liquid Limits

Since the mid-2000s, airports have restricted the liquids people could bring on planes in unchecked baggage. Travelers had to keep relevant items in a clear zip-top bag that they removed from their luggage while going through security checkpoints. The restrictions came into place after authorities uncovered a plan to blow up multiple planes with supplies disguised as soft drinks. 

Such processes may not be necessary for much longer. Ireland’s Shannon Airport installed a new system that allows people to take any amount of liquid onto a flight as long as it fits into their luggage. Similarly, they do not have to remove laptops and other electronics for inspection.

The technology can scan a person’s bag contents without making them open the luggage. This same approach will also be part of the security process at all major United Kingdom airports by Dec. 1, 2022. The hope is that the change will make flying more convenient for passengers and streamlined for airport staff without compromising airport security. 

Kyiv International Airport. Photo: Галина Богданенко, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

More Investments in Ballistics Protection 

Airport security must account for active shooter risks. Some people do this after making careful plans for months. In other cases, the stresses that sometimes accompany travel may become too much for someone to handle, causing them to reach for a gun and make threats. 

That second scenario is becoming more common due to the increasing number of air travel passengers who carry firearms on planes. In the United States, statistics from mid-December 2021 showed the number of guns confiscated at airport checkpoints at an all-time high that year. Security personnel took more than 5,700 of them. 

In 2019, the figure was significantly lower at 4,400, which was a yearly record at the time. People can travel with unloaded firearms while at U.S. airports, but they must keep them in checked bags.

Due to the thousands of people trying to take guns through airport security, there’s also an elevated risk of accidental discharges. Brooks Thomas is the senior program manager at Defenshield, which provides ballistic protective equipment and tactical solutions. As Thomas noted, “Airports require balancing a unique mix of security and business requirements to produce a safe and successful facility.” 

One of the ways they could do that is to invest in specialized furniture and equipment that resists blasts, bullets, and fragmentation. That makes people less likely to be injured by splintering material and similar risks. Since airports are so busy, there’s always the threat of individuals getting hurt by being in the general area of a gun-related security issue, even if they’re not particularly close to it. 

Photo: Swissport

A Growing Awareness that Airport Security Includes the Online Realm

Post-COVID airport security will also center on the fact that it’s vital to have cybersecurity plans in place. Hacking an airline could give cybercriminals access to tremendous amounts of data. However, lackluster cybersecurity could also result in costly fines for the targeted organizations. 

The breach at Dutch airline Transavia (HV), first publicly disclosed in February 2021, is a prime example. In that case, cybercriminals stole a file containing the details of 83,000 passengers. However, a closer look at the instance revealed that the intruders had access to systems holding the information of more than 25 million customers. The airline received a €400,000 fine after investigators ruled it was at fault. 

In a more recent case, aviation services company Swissport International AG dealt with hackers that claimed to have taken more than 1 terabyte of data during a ransomware attack. 

When cybersecurity researchers studied the kinds of malware deployed in 2021, they received unsettling results. The information indicated that one in five malware variants encrypt content to make it inaccessible. Additionally, most malware circulating at the time of the investigation carried out an average of 11 malicious actions on a system. 

Security Screening at Denver International Airport. Photo: DEN

The Continued Rollout of Free Security Screening Appointments

Travelers have long had access to various services that help them get through security faster. However, they are generally unsuitable for people who only travel occasionally or as part of large families due to the expense. 

Numerous U.S. airports introduced security screening appointments during the pandemic and still offer them. One of the main perks of these programs is that they’re free. People can sign up for slots several days before their flights depart. 

Data from trials of these programs indicated that people generally like them. Airport officials also reported that getting travelers through security faster could encourage them to spend more money on amenities before their flights.

Maintaining options like these is another example of how airport security decision-makers could make traveling more pleasant for passengers without cutting corners on keeping everyone safe. Many people can probably recall times when they’ve waited far too long in security lines and others where they breezed through with no delays.

However, now there’s no need to hope for good luck when approaching checkpoints. Instead, travelers can choose the appointment time that works best for them and not pay a fee for that perk. 

Blickfeld uses laser sensing technology to assist airports in managing passenger numbers to ensure security. Photo: Blickfeld.

Crowd Monitoring With Lidar and Robots

COVID-19 introduced the world to social distancing. The pandemic is still causing severe disruptions in some areas, so airport security teams must be ready to reimplement, enforce or adjust policies to keep people far enough apart. 

However, knowing the exact or approximate number of people in a particular part of the airport is necessary for reasons beyond the pandemic. Overcrowding could make evacuations more difficult or simply mean people getting frustrated by slow service.

Airports have taken various approaches to maintain an appropriate number of people in different parts of the facility. One option is to deploy light detection and ranging (lidar) technology. A startup that offers it has solutions that can track people’s movement patterns in airports. It can also detect when individuals wrongfully enter restricted areas. 

Japan’s Kansai International Airport relies on robots for similar purposes. The machines complement human security guards by patrolling areas and taking pictures when necessary. Personnel could use them to investigate potential incidents before sending teams to the scene or get better visibility into possible airport backups. 

IATA Travel Pass passport. Photo: IATA

Airport Security Is Evolving

These are some of the many examples of how airport security methods are changing. The shift is partly due to lessons learned during the pandemic, but it also relates to how technology is becoming more advanced. Decision-makers who specialize in keeping airports secure have more options than before and can make travel more convenient.

Featured image: MIA

Emily Newton is a technology journalist. She is Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the latest innovations.

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