© Xander Richters

How can we make security check points less stressful?

Security screening at airports is often a source of anxiety and annoyance in an already stressful situation. According to SITA, a leading air transport and IT communications specialist, 36% of passengers have a negative perception of security checks. This is largely due to shortcomings in the current design process. Only limited data is available to inform the optimal location and operation mode of screening checkpoints, relying mainly on passenger flow models. What is often overlooked, is the impact that human behaviour can have on the efficiency of the security check operations.

Our initial research considered the contribution of particular screening elements to the process throughput and highlighted human factors that could be relevant. The study aimed to verify the exact influence of behaviour on the fluidity of the security check and to identify opportunities to enhance passenger experience. Through observation, surveys, and using a human factors framework, we gathered data to evaluate screening checkpoint (SCP) operations in some UK airports. Aspects that were considered included physical anthropometrics, cognitive psychology, work environment and organisational culture. They were analysed at a number of screening points, such as boarding pass scanning, screening queue, loading of the trays, walking through metal detector, baggage scanning and re-dressing.

Arup identified the main bottlenecks in the process from both a passenger and security operator point of view and made initial recommendations on ways of improving it. Much of the stress could be taken out of the passenger experience through slight modification to the operational layout of SCP.

The research utilised the human factors framework model developed to collect data on timing passenger flow through all stages of the security screening checkpoints and to analyse security operations.

Improvements could be achieved at the very first stage of scanning boarding pass. Throughput could be reduced to 10sec if passengers were informed of the requirement prior to arriving at the security checkpoint.

While queuing for screening, passengers could be encouraged to use the time more effectively to prepare for tray loading and body scanning.

Tray loading was an area where human factors directly influenced travel time through the screening process. Assigning to loading stations was often poor. Incorrect loading of the trays created flow issues and caused delays.

Re-dressing is an area for improvement, where passenger behaviours can halt the whole screening operation.

The research showed how human factors influence security operations. Areas of potential improvement were identified by considering not only the physical layout but the holistic interaction between people, technology and equipment at each security screening checkpoint.

The data gathered was used to validate a time and motion model developed to simulate passenger flows through security checkpoints.

The insights obtained from this research will help improve the design aspects of security screening stations. Availability of information relevant to each individual stage in the journey through the process will also enable effective improvements in operations to be made.

Operational reports on customer experience highlight that airport passenger screening checkpoints have a significant and adverse impact on passengers’ airport experience.

Understanding the influence human factors have on security operations presents opportunities to tackle the challenge to improve passenger experience as well as targeting resources to deliver the best value for money for airport operators.