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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 terminals.

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.

"Airline 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 terrorist incident.

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 Tuesday's tragedy."

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."

The Profiler

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 following:

  • Listen to how passengers answer questions.
  • Watch the body language of the passengers.
  • Interpret exactly what purpose a passenger's ticket is being used for.
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 luggage.

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 that."

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."

A Little Inconvenience Adds Up to Safer Skies

LeBlanc observed 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.

Related Site:

Air Security International



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