Over one hundred security screeners were laid off at YVR airport due to budgetary constraints. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as many airports across North America are cutting costs and making difficult decisions. The impact of these cutbacks could be devastating to the security of air travel worldwide, not to mention the impact to the time needed to get through airport security prior to boarding your flight.
In Canada, the organization responsible is the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and in the USA it is the Transportation Security Administration. Both have had to deal with severe budget cuts and are trying the best they can to maintain a level of security, given their new lower funding levels.
Cutting back on staffing costs is the main approach so far. This has resulted in longer line-ups, more irritated passengers and possible risk of tired screeners missing vital clues that a terrorist is trying to smuggle weapons onboard a flight.
"We've already seen evidence of longer line-ups. We're concerned about the fatigue aspect for our members and what this might mean from the safety perspective," said Canniff, a union worker at YVR.
Airports are now encouraging passengers to arrive up to 6 hours in advance of their flight to allow adequate time for going through security screening. Opponents to the cutbacks report that most of the security checkpoints and x-ray machines are now unmanned, and passengers are required to go through a single x-ray machine run by a minimum-wage college dropout with an axe to grind. Also, every hour, security screeners have to close the only working security checkpoint to take a mandatory 5 minute bathroom break while passengers have to wait in line.
To address delays, airports are introducing more automated screening devices. Some airports are trying out new self-service security checkpoints, similar to self-service checkouts in grocery stores. Passengers put their own bags through an x-ray scanner, and are encouraged to report anything they see as suspicious. They then walk into a 360 degree full-body scanner, which shows on a large display to everyone in the line-up, what kind of things they have under their clothing, including tattoos and birthmarks. Passengers who do not want to run themselves through the 360 degree full-body scanners have the option of giving themselves a pat down.
With the introduction of self-service security checkpoints, it is expected that one security screener can monitor four security checkpoints, allowing for a 75% reduction of the workforce, while maintaining the same level of throughput. For those who usually get into some kind of argument with security screeners, and end up with the full body cavity search, this option is still available, although it is best to call ahead to book a time. If you like, you can call ahead on behalf of your obnoxious friends and co-workers whenever they are travelling by air.
In a lot of airports, you have to remove your shoes to go through a scanner. With the new self-service security checkpoints, you have the option of self disclosure rather than removing your shoes. Those people who have concealed weapons or explosives hidden in their shoes, just have to press the relevant button on the self-service console to alert security of the threat.
Opponents to the new self-service security checkpoints say that there is now a greater chance that terrorists may lie about weapons and explosives, thus exposing innocent airline passengers to risk. Just like the honor system in self-service checkouts in grocery stores, where shoppers sometimes fail to scan some item they drop into their bag, it punishes the many in order to protect against the few who abuse the system. To counter this, a number of security screeners will be conducting spot checks to ensure that passengers are following the new system correctly. As before it remains a crime to bring prohibited items on board an airplane, and severe punishment awaits those who try.
When asked, the airport authorities said they did not expect that the cost savings would result in a reduction in ticket prices for passengers, since they were already over budget. They did say that the cost savings would decrease the need for further increases, such as airport taxes and improvement fees, being added on to the cost of a flight ticket, which would in the long run keep ticket prices from further skyrocketing.