Non Orbis Unum (Not One World): the problem with one-stop security

For years the aviation security industry has worked towards an idealised standard of security whereby passengers are only ever screened once at the onset of their journey, regardless of the number of transit stops. However, in the current climate, the concept of one-stop security is not only looking to be less achievable but also less desirable. Shannon Wandmaker discusses the reasons why this is so and, more positively, examines what is achievable to make the screening process more palatable to the travelling public, whilst also enhancing their protection.

In 47 years’ time, after teleportation makes the aviation industry redundant, or advances in virtual reality make travel unnecessary, some diligent Bachelor of History major is going to write a paper titled, ‘One-stop: the disconnect between idealism and reality in aviation security’. For the seven people who read it, the paper will come to an unremarkable and entirely predictable conclusion: one-stop aviation security never happened. Indeed, it never even came close to happening. Like poverty eradication and world peace, ‘one-stop security’ is more a rallying cry than an achievable goal, and for all the talk of harmonisation, mutual recognition and equivalence, very little progress is ever made.

It’s worth asking not only why this is, but also exploring whether one-stop security should even be the goal or whether there are better ways to improve aviation security outcomes and the passenger experience.

The idea of a seamless passenger experience – where the travelling public proceeds through security only at the start of the journey, and is not subjected to transit or transfer screening – has been around since the installation of the second walk-through metal detector. Yet in many ways, the world is further away from one-stop aviation security than ever before.

One reason is that one-stop goes against a fundamental building block of aviation security: the layered approach.

Like almost all critical processes in aviation, healthcare, engineering and other industries, redundancies are built into aviation security to ensure that, as much as possible, when something is missed there is an opportunity to rectify the mistake. Any transit screening point officer can give daily examples of prohibited items they have discovered on previously screened and cleared passengers.

The current passenger screening process is clumsy and antiquated. Layers of the existing process need to be updated or removed, and risk-based measures rather than a one size fits all approach should be implemented. Nevertheless, even the current methods of screening transit passengers still provide an opportunity to identify threats to the aviation network that have been missed on the first pass.

The fact that countries have different screening capabilities also provides a significant barrier to one-stop security, as highlighted by transit screeners routinely confiscating prohibited items.