Horse play in the security zone

Violinist entertaining security queue

So here we are again. AD 2016 is an Olympic year and there will also be a major international football tournament starting this month. Cue a lot of media chatter about airport security and immigration queues.

Violinist entertaining security queueWell what are you going to do about that? More staff, bigger square footage, better technology? Nope. Just discriminate, stupid. At least that is what they have decided to do in China. Wuhan Tianhe airport, a busy international hub in central Hubei province, has introduced single-sex checking lanes because it says women usually take longer going through security than men. There is no official mention of children and old age pensioners though. According to the airport, gender-segregated lanes will shorten waiting times for male travellers, and give women more privacy if they’re asked to remove shoes or layers of clothing.

Airports in Beijing, Shenzhen and Kunming have all recently adopted similar measures. Beijing’s pink-themed, female-only security lanes opened in March, staffed solely by women. One security official told People’s Daily at the time that female travellers often pack “lots of cosmetics” which mean their luggage has to be inspected. According to the airport the new segregated lines had improved efficiency by 25%.

Somehow Insider thinks a similar system would not be so well received by airports in the Western world although judging by what is happening in the US something radical needs to be considered.

A combination of security staff shortages increased passenger numbers and lower air fares have increased queues to such an extent that one trade travel group which represents major carriers has urged delayed passengers to use the hashtag #IHateTheWait and post photos of long lines on Instagram or Twitter.

Things have got so bad that “therapy ponies” have been brought in to calm the shredded nerves in the queues at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

At other locations airports have hired in circus performers and musicians to help entertain the people waiting in line. Insider can think of some terminals where a similar move would be guaranteed to start a mass brawl.

But who is to blame for this chaos and the need to turn airport terminals into petting zoos? Big government of course. The Transportation Security Administration and Congress have cut the number of airport screeners by 4,622 – about 10% – in the past three years. They calculated that this shortfall would be easily taken up by the roll out of an expedited screening programme called PreCheck, which speeds queues along by allowing previously vetted passengers to go through security without removing their shoes, belts and jackets.

But surprise surprise, not enough people have joined. As of 1 March, 9.3 million people were PreCheck members. It is estimated that at the rate people are applying for the programme, it would take more than four years for 25 million people to be enrolled. Pre-check costs $85 for five years if enrolled with the TSA directly.

Congress agreed to give the TSA $34m allowing the agency to pay staff overtime wages and hire 768 more screeners by 15 June. Republican Senator Mark Kirk demanded the administrator of the TSA resign if the problems are not resolved by the end of the month.

Two US senators have suggested that airlines drop baggage fees to encourage fewer passengers to over-pack carry-on baggage, which must be screened. They won’t of course. So Insider’s little black book of airports to avoid this summer has just grown by another few pages.

Please send your comments to: gary.mason@jldmedia.com

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