Airport security sucks. It generates stress and confusion. And even if we accept it as a necessary thing to keep ourselves and society safe, the way airport security is set up now, is an enormous waste of time and energy. It is hard to understand that with all bright minds in society, the best possible way to keep us all safe is to queue up for half an hour with other grumpy people to be frowned upon by moody security people. If this is the best thing we came up with, what were the ideas that were disregarded in the brainstorm?

Sorry. End of rant.

Let’s accept it as a necessary evil, something we really need as a society and let’s accept for a moment we can not make big changes in airport security. That we can not take it away, change the lay-out of the security to be more user friendly, that we’re not able to assign slots to people, etcetera etcetera.

A quick side-step first: there are several simple rules of user experience, as -for instance- defined by Cialdini. One of them is about consistency. People are way more likely to accept current airport security measures (and thus be less stressed and/or annoyed) if it is presented in smaller steps and/or consistent with previous experiences.

And now, let’s have a look at how airport security works.

How airport security really works

Most airports will have you take out your liquids and gels. Some airports will demand you to put them together in a see-through plastic bag. Others won’t. There are even airports where you do not have to take out your gels and liquids.

The large majority of airports will have some form of packaging-over-contents-rule: if the liquids limit is 100ml, you have a bottle of 250ml and there’s only 50ml in it, you still have to throw it away because the bottle says 250ml, which is more than 50ml. I guess it is the quickest way to avoid discussions (what if there was not 50ml in it, but 95ml … or 105ml?). On the other hand, I have airports seen waiving this after a brief discussion with a traveler.

Most airports will have you take out your laptop(s) and/or iPad(s). Some will let you keep them inside your bag.

At some airports, airport security personnel will want you to wait for their sign before you put your boxes with belongings on the small conveyer belt towards the scanner. Others will scold you for waiting and want you to put your belongings on the belt

Some security officers will want you to wait for their sign before you walk through the scanner and will let you go again if you did not. Others will be irritated if you’re waiting for their sign and will gesture to hurry up.

In general, procedures within an airport are the same (although I know at least at Amsterdam Schiphol airport in the new security scan you can keep your laptop in your bag, while in the others parts you have to take them out). However, it can very well be that while you are the perfect-son-in-law-traveller in the morning when you’re boarding in Amsterdam, you get scolded at least three times at Munich airport when you’re flying back – once for not having your liquids in a see-through-bag, once for not putting your stuff on the belt fast enough and the last time for not walking through the scanner fast enough.

So, if we can not radically improve airport security processes, let us at least make it consistent.

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