Intercultural Differences: the challenge for security screeners15 Feb 2012
Tim Cohen looks at some of the intercultural challenges faced by aviation security screeners and aircrew and explores some of the techniques that provide personnel with the knowledge and tools to ensure the public are treated respectfully without compromising security.
A Jewish teenager trying to pray on US Airways Express Flight 3079, en route from New York to Kentucky in January 2010, caused a scare when he pulled out a set of small boxes containing holy scrolls and started to strap them to his arm; concern in the cabin resulted in the captain opting to divert the flight to Philadelphia, where the commuter plane was greeted by police, bomb-sniffing dogs and federal agents. The 17-year-old was using ‘tefillin’ – phylacteries; when used in prayer, one box is strapped to the arm while the other box is placed on the head.1 Although the US Airways case could be said to be extreme, it does highlight a number of issues, namely the lack of intercultural knowledge on the part of the flight crew as well as the questionable response.
Let us briefly explore and define some of the cultural issues in the airport environment and, most importantly, identify what is being done by some in the industry to train their staff for the intercultural issues they are faced with.
It can be taken for granted that “within a cultural group, fellow members and the environment are more predictable, making routines easier and quicker. This gives a sense of security and confidence, enhancing efficiency within the culture. These cultural efficiencies are challenged when we encounter members or objects from another culture. When this occurs the environment becomes less certain and predictable and requires greater effort.”2
Encountering cultural differences can render otherwise successful people ineffective and frustrated. Many highly successful people when transferred to another country can often find it remarkably challenging; all that was considered “normal” has now changed. The assumptions that worked at home are no longer valid.
In order to conduct effective interactions with other cultures, one needs to understand that the cultural factors contribute to international success or failure, but it is often an ‘invisible’ problem. We are simply not conscious of the issue. We need to understand ourselves, and how our own cultural values affect the way we behave and the impact of that behaviour on others. Therefore, greater self-awareness will enormously impact how we interact with others.
Australians, for example, can often be considered very direct and blunt in their manner of communication and can be perceived as offensive and even rude. Hence, when interacting with many Asian cultures, which are considered to be high context cultures where verbal communication is only a part of the communication process, body language and tone of voice take on a much more important role.
According to Darlene Winston, Manager of People and Culture at SNP Security, which handles security at a number of Australian airports, many of their staff come from a vast range of cultures. Therefore, prior to interacting with the travellers, new staff undertake a rigorous cultural awareness programme that commences with “acceptance through awareness”. This approach is significant in that it ensures the employees first learn and understand what cultural diversity is and then how to work within their own team, as a pre-requisite to dealing with the travelling public.
We need to understand that other cultures have different values from our own (it’s not a case of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – just different). If we understand the importance of the above we can often be more effective by adopting certain strategies. These include adjusting our own behaviour; building bridges across intercultural differences; agreeing on different priorities and needs; and, developing and modifying our intercultural operating mode through observation and experience.
Aviation inherently has an intercultural focus as it not only involves flights between and over different countries, but also those flying are from a multitude of various cultures. This abundance and diversity of cultural interfaces may in turn cause many challenges for aviation security personnel. For example, in March 2010 a Muslim woman refused to go through a full-body airport scanner at Manchester airport, and was consequently barred from boarding her flight.3 Other examples might include how some travellers may react to the use of, and proximity to, sniffer dogs. In many Middle Eastern cultures dogs are viewed as dirty and hence might cause extreme stress.
In the aviation security arena we have the airport environment, the passengers, and the security personnel, all of which present their own cultural challenges.
Aviation screening personnel work in a hectic and stressful environment. The stakes are high and pressure is constant. Thousands of people are screened each day and incidents are generally few. The pressure is constant because, according to Sidney Chau, Executive Director of AVSECO in Hong Kong, “customer focused measures should be implemented without dispensing the need for tight security.”4 “Travellers do not like queues, inconvenience and uncertainty. Congestion can undermine the integrity of the screening process”4, which in turn will create added pressure for the security personnel.
Aviation security personnel, particularly the screeners who conduct body checks, have a daunting mission. There are thousands of passengers, each with their own story, wanting to get on a flight to their destination. They are from literally all over the world and many do not even speak the language of the screeners. Many of them are anxious and worried about flying regardless of security; according to Prof. Robert Bor, of Dynamic Change Consultants, “between 10 to 40 per cent of air travellers experience some kind of fear response to the air travel process.”5 Furthermore, since 9/11, any passenger who is not of European appearance that is singled out for further examination may feel the decision to be racially motivated…MORE ONLINE
Leave a Reply
No Banner to display