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Airport Screening Analytical Essay

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2019

Airport screening has become an essential component of transportation security policy in the United States following a security breach that precipitated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (Fritteli, 2005).

In response to the terrorist attacks, the US Congress moved with speed to pass the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which in turn established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure the security of the travelling public through screening of passengers for explosives and other dangerous items (Blalock, 2007; Lord, 2012).

Although the TSA mandated a federalized workforce of security screeners to conduct inspections on online passengers and their luggage, available literature demonstrates that this piecemeal and reactive mandate resulted in significant cost increases, adverse privacy implications, and inconveniences (McLay, Lee, & Jacobson, 2010).

The present paper measures the impact of the federalization of airport screening and attempts to advocate for a more responsive, intelligence-based, and technology-focused screening aimed at cutting costs, ensuring passenger privacy, and reducing inconveniences.

Impact of Federalization of Airport Screening

Understanding the Federalization of Airport Screening

The two fundamental changes in airport security visible to passengers after the terrorist attacks included “the federalization of passenger security screening at all US commercial airports by November 19, 2002, and the requirement to begin screening all checked baggage by December 31, 2002” (Blalock, 2007, p. 2).

When TSA officially took over the mandate for airport security in February 2002, it embarked on an effort to substitute private security screeners with federal employees who were charged with the responsibility of conducting passenger-screening operations at all US commercial airports.

TSA not only embarked on hiring 56,000 federal screeners to help reduce waiting time in security lines but also increased the compensation and training of screeners by offering them higher wages and expanding training requirements (Blalock, 2007). Fritteli (2005) argues that federalizing the screener workforce was offered as a potential solution to address the challenges of high staff turnover, low wages, poor supervision and training, as well as lack of regulatory oversight.

Impacts and Concerns

This paper looks into three impacts related to the federalization of airport screening, namely travelers’ inconveniences, privacy concerns, and cost implications. The discussion around inconvenience is embedded in the fact that, although greater confidence in the safety of air travel has been found to trigger demand, the inconvenience of security procedures that necessitate additional time and effort on the part of travelers due to the high expectations associated with airport screening may indeed minimize demand for air travel (Blalock, 2007).

The intrusive security measures occasioned by the federalization of airport screening (e.g., arbitrary hand-searches of travelers and their carry-on luggage, expansive inspection and prohibitions on non-dangerous items) have been found to minimize the convenience of air travel, resulting in lost revenues for airline companies as potential travelers choose to stay at home (Hessick, 2002).

Although studies have found that travelers often value-enhanced airport security and are prepared to allow some extra inconvenience and/or high prices in order to feel more secure and confident (Blalock, 2007), the requirements for additional time and effort on the part of customers have been found to substantially reduce passenger convenience in domestic and foreign arenas (Hessick, 2002).

From the ongoing, it is evident that risk-based approaches to airport screening such as selective screening and behavioral profiling can be used to avoid unnecessary passenger inconveniences in contemporary airport security operations. As postulated by McLay et al. (2010), selective screening applies high-order security technologies and procedures on a targeted cluster of high-risk passengers and employs lower levels of scrutiny to screen low-risk passengers.

However, as acknowledged by Markarian, Kolle, and Tarter (2011), it is always essential to have a prescreening system that undertakes an accurate risk assessment of passengers before their arrival at the airport to enhance the accuracy of passenger assessment. On its part, behavioral profiling is able to minimize passenger inconveniences by focusing attention to high-risk passengers (Poole & Carofano, 2006).

Due to lack of passenger privacy that followed the implementation of the new security procedures such as the federalization of airport screening and comprehensive baggage screening, a huge decline in passengers flying shorter trips was noted as such passengers preferred to drive to their destinations (Blalock, 2007).

Calculations demonstrate that the substitution of flying for driving by travelers seeking to safeguard their privacy not only led to fatal road accidents but also triggered a slump in traveler volumes as well as airline profit margins (Selzer, 2003). Available literature demonstrates that the creation of multiple levels of security (e.g., concentric protection) may indeed be more effective than treating all passengers the same, particularly in terms of safeguarding their privacy and removing bottlenecks that trigger privacy concerns (McLay et al., 2010).

Security frameworks such as concentric protection are not intrusive to passengers as they help to integrate security systems and increase the level of penetration difficulty through what is commonly referred to as defense in depth (Markarian et al., 2011).

In terms of costs, airline companies are of the opinion that “the increased inconvenience caused by security measures has cost them billions in lost ticket revenues as potential business travelers opt to stay at home” (Blalock, 2007, p. 8).

Tough security measures imposed by the TSA through the federalization of airport screening and comprehensive screening of baggage, though appropriate in thwarting terrorist attacks, have nevertheless imposed a huge cost in terms of reduced profits in the airline industry and less tax revenue for the federal government due to stunted ticket sales (Selzer, 2003).

Plan Validation

It is evident that the federalization of airport screening has witnessed adverse outcomes in terms of travelers’ inconveniences, privacy concerns and cost implications, though it has had a corresponding increase in security (McLay et al., 2010). The solution to these adverse outcomes and concerns, it seems, is nested on the development of a more responsive, intelligence-based and technology-focused screening process that utilizes the federal and private workforce of screeners.

Federal screeners will be included in the plan as many travelers feel safer with federal security screeners as opposed to private ones (Blalock, 2007), while private screeners will be included for their innovation and flexibility to provide screening services more competently and with superior customer service (Lord, 2012). The combination of safety, efficiency, competency and enhanced customer service will be instrumental in reducing travelers’ inconveniences and reinforcing privacy.

As already acknowledged, the proposed plan will include three main components, namely responsiveness, intelligence collection, and technology. It is essential to have a competent and flexible workforce to man the responsiveness component of the plan. These human resources will be sourced from the private sector as available literature demonstrates that private airport screeners are more innovative, flexible, and competent in customer service than federal screeners (Lord, 2012).

Overall, this workforce will be charged with the responsibility of implementing risk-based approaches to airport screening (e.g., selective screening and behavioral profiling) with the view to ensuring that the interventions are more responsive to the needs and expectations of travelers.

As demonstrated in the literature, “the risk-based approach would produce significant cost savings in both capital and operating costs, while targeting those funds spent on airport security toward the passengers more likely to pose threats to people and property” (Poole, 2006, p. 27).

Additionally, it is now common knowledge that selective screening is a useful technique in reducing costs and waste of scarce security resources as air travelers are not treated equally in terms of threat potential (Poole & Carofano, 2006). This way, it is assumed that the private screeners will have the capacity to substantially reduce travelers’ inconveniences and associated costs due to the responsive nature of available airport security interventions.

The intelligence collection component of the plan will be allocated to duly qualified and competent federal screeners and their mandate will entail the use of available security and safety systems, existing criminal databases, and risk-based prescreening techniques to identify passengers and baggage for inspection.

The use of these systems and risk-based screening techniques in airport safety operations will increase travelers’ confidentiality and privacy while ensuring that sufficient levels of safety are maintained to deter terrorist attacks (Edwards, 2013).

It is proposed that the screening force will be part of the intelligence collection fraternity and will be directly involved in providing concentric circles of security to, among other things, (1) help separate sensitive areas from the airside or other areas, (2) provide defense in depth by instituting another gateway that needs to be altered from a less-secure environment to a higher-secure environment, (3) assist in the integration of security systems for effective airport screening, and (4) enhance the level of penetration difficulty (Markarian et al., 2011).

This workforce is also expected to focus on the ‘human factor’ of security provisions and exercise comprehensive due diligence, common sense, and consistency to be useful in the provision of optimal passenger safety using a methodology that does not violate passenger safety (Canody, 2015; McLay et al., 2010). Overall, such screening interventions are bound to increase aviation safety and decrease privacy and confidentiality violations.

Lastly, both federal and private screeners will be exposed to emerging safety technologies and information technology (IT) solutions to ensure the optimal uptake of technology-focused interventions in airport screening. Use of state-of-the-art security technologies will be useful in decentralizing operations, re-orienting security policies along risk-based lines, as well as devolving screening functions to each individual airport for efficiency and effectiveness (Poole, 2006).

The workforce handling emerging technology devices must be trained to improve airport security by targeting more of these sophisticated devices towards passengers who pose comparatively more significant risk of harm and developing technology-focused screening methodologies that are able to rely on various datasets to quantify the threat potential of a passenger as opposed to undertaking full screening.

Such a technology-focused platform for airport screening, in my view, will substantially reduce passenger inconveniences, address privacy concerns and cut operating costs. Furthermore, the emerging technology and IT infrastructure can be used in aviation environments to integrate security systems for optimal productivity and efficiency.


This report has not only measured the impact of federalization of airport screening in terms of passenger inconvenience, privacy concerns and cost implications but also advocated for a more responsive, intelligence-based and technology-focused airport screening intervention to remedy the situation.

The proposed plan will utilize a mix of federal and private airport screeners as the two groups have their unique skills and competencies. Overall, it is felt that the proposed plan will be useful in addressing the deficits and contributing towards an effective and efficient airport screening system. Comprehensive training of the workforce is critical in making the proposed plan a reality.


Blalock, G., Kadiyali, V., & Simon, D. H. (2007). . Web.

Canody, H. (2015). Smarter Security. Air Transport World, 52(7), 20-22.

Edwards, C. (2013). . Web.

Fritteli, J. (2005). . Web.

Hessick, F. A. (2002). The federalization of airport security: Privacy implications. Whittier Law Review, 24(2), 43-69.

Lord, S. M. (2012). : TSA should issue more guidance to airports and monitor private versus federal screener performance. Web.

Markarian, G., Kolle, R., & Tarter, A. (2011). Aviation security engineering: A holistic approach. London, UK: Artech House.

McLay, L. A., Lee, A. J., & Jacobson, S. H. (2010). Risk-based policies for airport security checkpoint screening. Transportation Science, 44(3), 339-349.

Poole, R. W. (2006). . Web.

Poole, R. W., and Carofano, J. J. (2006). . Web.

Selzer, M. (2003). Federalization of airport security workers: A study of practical impact of the aviation and transportation security act from a labor law perspective. Journal of Labor and Employment Law, 5(2), 363-381.

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