While writing this column, it is the heart of summer 2015 and even in The Netherlands the weather is nice and sunny, with an occasional shower. And yet most Dutch people like to travel abroad for their holidays. That’s why last Saturday we had the busiest day ever here at Schiphol Airport, with nearly 200,000 departing and arriving passengers.
Furthermore, that same weekend some 580,000 travellers came through our airport in three days, without any major problems…as is the case at most airports around the world. However, for us, it was more exciting than in other years, because, in June, we changed the airport’s infrastructure from decentralised (gate) security to centralised security with huge transfer checkpoints. This move had been three years in preparation.
Aviation is still growing around the globe, despite the aftermath of an economic crisis and major political and financial instability, and associated incidents, challenging the tourism industry and business community alike taking place e.g. the terrorist attack on the beach in Tunisia, or problems with getting enough money from ATM machines in Greece. But nowadays tourists, passengers and people in general are able to adapt more quickly and easily to threats and new situations than they were in the past.
50% of these passengers depart by going through security screening, using the numerous checkpoints installed in our terminals. Almost all of them don’t even know anything better! Only those who travelled by plane before the mid-seventies remember the easy-going boarding process without the hassle of security controls. I believe it is, and will always be, one of the least pleasurable aspects of travelling.
That’s why it is so shocking that these checkpoints still look almost the same at most airports after so many years of threats and incidents. Inside the checkpoint the X-ray machines, the Walk-Through Detectors, the occasional body scanner and other sophisticated equipment like trace detectors, have, without argument, tremendously improved the screening of both persons and hand baggage. But the appearance is still more or less the same: grey and black with a lot of metal! Deadly boring, isn’t it?
Of course, the purpose of the checkpoint, the heart of the security process and the most visible part of the security system at an airport, is intended to improve the security screening of passengers and their belongings. But there is a new element sneaking in from around the corner: passenger friendliness and customer service, both often considered as being totally contradictory to security screening and uniformed security staff.
In my opinion, however, this empathy is desperately needed because the vast majority of our passengers are normal, well-behaved people. They are our customers who have genuine intent and positive reasons for boarding a flight to a domestic or international destination. These grey and dull checkpoints don’t help create the right atmosphere.