Airline Ticketing Kiosks Face Uncertain Future
(September 15, 2001)
In the last few years, airlines have vigorously
pursued automating the ticketing process to substantially lower
costs and to make the flying experience a little easier for
consumers. One area of automation is the self-service ticketing
kiosks (ATM-like machines) located in airport
These machines allow customers to bypass ticket
counters to check bags, select a seat, answer security questions,
and obtain boarding passes—all in as little as 30 seconds.
Convenience Versus Safety
"All our ticketing
kiosks have been shut down, and all passengers must now check-in at
the ticket counters along with their bags," says United Airlines
spokesperson Laura Winiarski.
Indeed, all airline
self-service kiosks have been shut down, and that is good news to
some security experts who think it is long overdue.
kiosks have totally bastardized the security concept," says security
expert Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security
International, a Houston-based international security and
intelligence company. Air Security's founder and current president
Israel "Issy" Boim has a distinguished career in the intelligence
arena. Boim helped develop the aviation security concept for El Al
Israeli Airlines. His expertise led him to involvement with the
extensive security investigations following Pan American's Lockerbie
According to LeBlanc, the current
security screening is "laughable." He says, "The current yes/no
questioning of screening baggage used by agents and kiosk machines
is closed end questioning which makes it easier for a potential
terrorist to lie. There has been so much compromise of airport
security in the last ten to fifteen years that it has led us up to
He goes on to say, "What we have is a
shell concept of security and airline ticket agents and skycaps are
not trained professionally to deal with it. We need to go back to
the original concept of passenger profiling."
Profiling has proven to be an excellent tool in the war
against counter terrorism. The Israeli's perfected the program in
their country in the early 1970s. It was so successful that many
other countries adopted the methods. LeBlanc states, "We need to
have trained security officers profile and ask questions of
passengers." He says that trained security officers will do the
This type of profiling detects passengers who
could pose a security risk based on their travel history and past
criminal record. Under the system, passengers who did things like
pay for their tickets with cash or travel to countries suspected of
sponsoring terrorism could face lengthy hand searches of their
- Listen to how passengers answer questions.
- Watch the body language of the passengers.
- Interpret exactly what purpose a passenger's ticket is being
Currently, several airlines use computerized
profiling software to pick out the high-risk passenger. However,
LeBlanc feels this isn't enough. "Flushing out a potential terrorist
or individual that may pose a security threat is something trained
security officers should do and no machine is capable of doing
According to LeBlanc, in the mid-80s, the U.S. Air
Force proposed the concept of profiling for all airline passengers.
However, the airlines and several government agencies thought it was
too costly and therefore it was "shelved." The concept was taken off
the shelf for reconsideration after the Pan Am 103 tragedy in
Lockerbie, Scotland. Again, airlines cited cost considerations and
it was never implemented. It took the Gulf War to get profiling
mandated. Nevertheless, it ended up being a watered-down version
full of yes/no questions. "It was just a shell concept that took
away everything," says LeBlanc.
He adds, "Clearly, the
precision of Tuesday's monstrous terrorist attacks show that we have
multiple failures at multiple levels in our security network. We
need to add more levels to protect the public."
Inconvenience Adds Up to Safer Skies
that there is no time limit on the new heavy security measures as
they will need to stay forever. "We must never go back to the way it
was. Shame on us if we do!" He goes on to say, "We have to accept
the fact we are now on the same level as the U.K., France, Germany
in dealing with terrorist attacks."
LeBlanc believes the
flying public needs to get used to the idea of being inconvenienced.
"After Tuesday's events, I want to be inconvenienced," says LeBlanc.
As for kiosks, LeBlanc thinks they might still be useful; however,
he believes if they are to be used, that they be operated only with
security personnel standing next to them.
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