Secondary airport checkpoints-what are they really based on?

Aug. 11, 2009

It seems obvious that a traveler who looks suspicious would most likely go through a secondary checkpoint process at the airport, but I can’t help trying to figure out on what basis do airport security officials pull travelers aside for an additional screening?

An article published today in the Chicago Tribune discusses the security checkpoint process at airports and supports the idea that checkpoints seemed to have “calmed down,” with travelers knowing the standard checkpoint process in the U.S.: removing their shoes and pulling out their laptops from bags and knowing not to carry liquids no more then three ounces in their carry-on bags past the security point. But having just come back from a recent trip to Europe makes me question whether or not we have become too accustomed to the standard checkpoint process in the U.S., making it easier for life-threatening scenarios at airports or on planes in flight to occur.

I question this because traveling to Europe, both one of my family members and myself got checked at a secondary checkpoint to and from Europe. On the way to Poland, I questioned whether or not my family member got pulled from the line of passengers for a secondary screening because he seemed to be taking his time moving forward in the line past the standing guard or whether he had too much baggage for one person. On the flight home, all four members from my family including myself were asked to make our way towards “Section 4,” where we all went through yet another checkpoint process in which all our luggage was screened and our passports were checked for a second time. Now, I understand the security threat of coming in on an international flight from another country, but why did it seem like only those traveling from Warsaw, Poland got screened for a second time? Or was it just chance that all four members of my family, and a lot of the other passengers I saw on the same flight, get sent for a secondary screening? And is it really better to play it safe and just follow instructions in this type of situation, or do as my mother did at the time, and question the security guard why he was sending all of us from the same flight only to the secondary screening, while others got to walk past into the clear of the airport? The funny thing was, I held back, as I waited to hear what the security guard told my mother. But instead of getting some sort of answer to her question, all she got was, “because the other security guard told you to go to Section 4.”

I don’t know whether or not I would agree that security checkpoints seem to have calmed down. On the contrary, I question the process that one goes through in a security checkpoint and what secondary checkpoints and screenings are based on, whether it is a standard or international flight and does it really depend on which country one is arriving from. All factors, I’m sure, come into play at some point in the decision of a particular guard standing on a given day at a checkpoint. Let me know what you think—send me your thoughts. Natalia Kosk—Assistant Editor, Security Dealer & Integrator.

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