Travel future looks brighter
I'VE just got back from a five-week overseas trip so I'm filled with renewed bile about the whole barmy business of having to stand around for ages in poorly air-conditioned rooms while holding my shoes and belt in one hand, my backpack, laptop and a plastic bag containing my hand sanitiser in the other, while hoping my pants don't fall down, supposedly in the interests of security.
But at least I didn't have to go through a pat down - as happened last time I went through the United States - because I travelled via Dubai.
However, the good news is I don't have to go into a fresh rant on the topic, because the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has heard our complaints and seems to understand.
At IATA's 67th annual meeting, which has just been held in Singapore, director-general Giovanni Bisignani declared: "We spend US$7.4 billion [$9 billion] a year to keep aviation secure. But our passengers only see hassle. Passengers should be able to get from kerb to boarding gate with dignity. That means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping." Bravo.
Better still, he then unveiled a mock-up of the "checkpoint of the future", which would allow that to happen.
The basic idea is for passengers to be positively identified by way of a thumbprint or retina scan, divided into categories on the basis of information on the microchip in their passports, and sent through one of three screening tunnels: "Known travellers" who have registered and completed background checks will receive expedited screening; "normal travellers" will get a standard level of screening; and "elevated risk" passengers will have extra screening.
This checkpoint of the future will use new technology, much of which is already available, to check laptops, shoes, underwear and hand baggage for weapons or explosives as the passengers walk through the 6m long tunnels. And immigration and customs processing will be done at the same time as the security checks.
Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is. But Bisignani said he hoped to see the new approach starting to be implemented in the next two to three years.
Even more encouraging, the US Transporation Security Administration (TSA), which pretty much calls the shots on international aviation security, agrees. "It's something that's long overdue," TSA chief John Pistole (great name for a security chief), told the conference. "We're not at the checkpoint of the future yet but we're working toward that."
In fact, he said, his organisation had been working for the past six months on a system to differentiate passengers by security risk in order to cut down on needless checks. Later this year it would probably start a pilot programme at a selected airport to allow travellers with clean records to receive minimal checks. Fantastic.