If you are reading this the probability is that you, like me, travel frequently and suffer the passing indignity and delays caused by airport security. Put in place principally to protect us against those who mean us harm, it involves a process, whether in the North America, the Caribbean, Europe or elsewhere that at times seems to defy logic.
At every regional international departure point – in Cuba on arrival as well – various agencies responsible for national security are required to screen passenger in several ways. However, as every frequent flyer will have observed, when it comes to checking what you intend carrying-on, the procedures lack consistency, involve electronic equipment of variable quality, and would appear to be controlled by staff trained to different standards.
Mostly the agents responsible for processing you are polite and efficient, but sometimes one has to wonder about the questions asked or searches undertaken. Despite this we have all come to accept the inconvenience.
Recently, however, other concerns have arisen. They relate to the growing incidence of theft of high value electronic items such as laptops and mobile phones as they precede travellers through airport electronic security scanners.
Earlier this month, a complaint by a passenger travelling though London’s City Airport went viral. She had not just had her laptop taken while waiting in a queue to pass through a scanner, but then, on discovering the theft, found that the airport’s security staff would not act to find the culprit in a terminal small enough to easily identify whoever had taken it.
The passenger, Fernanda Ardiles, a student, was on her way back to a university in the Netherlands. She discovered that although the thief could be seen on CCTV taking her US$1,250 MacBook, the airport was not prepared to pursue him immediately or even alert the police. Worse was to follow: she was held to ransom by the thief for the return of her laptop which contained her dissertation. Then the airport denied her access to the footage able to identify the criminal to the police because of what it described as data protection rules. She would, they said, have to first make a complaint to police before it would comply with any such CCTV request.
Her case will resonate with anyone who regularly has to place their laptop in an open tray at airport security and then loses sight of it and their other possessions.
What her case brought to light is a growing incidence of hand held electronic equipment, car keys, and other valuables such as watches or jewellery, being taken by criminals or by other travellers before their rightful owner can catch up with their valuables. It also highlighted the absence of any standard protocols for dealing with such incidents.
Ms Ardiles says she was shocked that London City Airport did not appear to have a procedure for dealing with such thefts, something the airport, which is typically used by business travellers, has now said it will address.
Although airports claim that such events are rare, one only has to look online to find a significant number of reports relating to large busy airports such as Miami and New York’s JFK which indicate anecdotally a growing incidence of theft when passengers undergo security screening.
Every sensible traveller accepts that the security arrangements at airports and sea ports overseen by every nation’s civil aviation authorities and security agencies are a legal requirement and common sense. However, Ms Ardiles experience suggests is that more needs to be done by airports to avoid the theft of high value personal items at security.
Three responses are required. The first is that every airport should develop and implement a clear publicly available protocol which ensures that staff respond quickly to any theft with police support using CCTV footage. The second is that consideration should be given to finding a simple solution as to how to address the problem of the theft from trays containing laptops, which airport authorities require being screened separately. And the third is that passengers need to think before they reach screening checkpoints so that as much of what they have that is valuable is tucked away in their carry-on bags.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org
16th May 2018
The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.