How annoyed do people get over air security?

Scanners It can take a long time to get through security in some places

The chairman of British Airways has complained about US-driven air security measures, but how annoyed do American passengers get over the issue?

Any regular air traveller is accustomed to long queues to go through security.

And when any journey goes through the US - with standards ever more stringent in the years since 9/11 - many people expect that security to be more onerous.

A series of threats has led to many passengers being asked to remove shoes before passing through the airport metal detector, as well as the restrictions on taking liquids in hand baggage. Passengers are also required to remove laptops from laptop bags before scanning, a requirement that puzzles many.

But BA chairman Martin Broughton complains that the way rules are applied on domestic US flights can differ from international flights.

Start Quote

Travellers are required to remove their shoes before entering the walk-through metal detector at all US airports and put them through the x-ray machine for inspection”

End Quote US government advice

"America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do," Mr Broughton told the Financial Times. "We shouldn't stand for that."

Annoyance with differing security standards is a sentiment that passengers' groups also regularly hear.

"Inconsistency. That's the reason it becomes annoying," says Michael Cintron, director of consumer and travel industry affairs at the Dallas-based International Airline Passengers Association.

"The length of the wait in the queue, the annoyance of having to take off your shoes in one location but not another."

The US's Transportation Security Administration advice to passengers seems unequivocal.

"Travellers are required to remove their shoes before entering the walk-through metal detector at all US airports and put them through the x-ray machine for inspection," the advice says.

The procedure is primarily the result of Richard Reid's attempt to bomb an airliner with explosives hidden in his shoes.

But it is not applied rigorously at all US airports, notes Chris Yates, air security analyst at Jane's Information Group.

"A lot of measures have been put in place," he says. "There are still different standards about what is applied internally."

Martin Broughton Airline bosses want security to be smooth

Part of the problem is a raft of different regulations exist, he notes. There is the International Civil Aviation Organization which applies a basic global standard, there are the rules from the Department of Homeland Security in the US, and the EU has its own rules.

"We should have one set of gold-standard rules that apply equally everywhere," Mr Yates suggests.

The inconsistency over shoes, Mr Yates explains, can be because even a single single airport can apply different standards at different times according to threat information.

There is no doubt that passing through airport security these days can be a very stressful experience for many.

"You have some very extreme views - [Some people ask] 'how come you are not selecting the right people for the security and screening and inconveniencing the rest of us'," adds Mr Cintron.

But while there may be anger over the confusing application of the rules, surveys suggest that many air passengers are very accepting over security measures.

A survey done for the Unisys Security Index found 93% of Americans said they were willing to sacrifice some level of privacy to increase safety when flying.

Full body scanning Full body scanning might reduce queuing but can annoy some

And to take just one controversial measure, full body "naked" scanning, nearly two-thirds were happy to undergo it. In the UK, there was even more acceptance at 90%, the highest of any nation.

Not everybody can accept it of course. A pilot wearing uniform who refused to pass through a full body scan while on his way to work is pursuing a complaint against the TSA. Michael Roberts's case has been taken up by civil rights group the Rutherford Institute.

The top causes of annoyance to passengers are not related to security, suggests Mr Cintron.

Poor service and hidden fees dominate the stream of complaints, he says. People get more annoyed about mystery delays and complex baggage fees. One US airline - Spirit - even charges for carry-on bags.

Some of the annoyance on the security front may be dissipated by technology.

The issue of laptops for instance, could be resolved by research currently being conducted in Canada, Mr Yates says.

How do you feel about the level of air security in the US? Or elsewhere? Are you patient or do you get annoyed?

I have a replacment hip and every time I travel through Gatwick Airport I have to undergo a strip search because I fail the ARCH detector, I have to suffer this massive indignity to show I am not concealing anything untoward. If this is done on the pretense of security then I must ask the question why if I travel on Eurostar or use the Channel Tunnel do I not have to remove my shoes or asked to drop my trousers.

Mike Harrison, Reigate, UK

I have limited my use of airlines severely due to the humiliation of security checks that are partial strip-searches. On two occasions I was required to open my belt, un-button the top of my trousers & roll them down to just above my crotch, while a TSA agent then ran his finger between my trousers and body. Adding to my embarrassment, these intimate & outrageous "inspections" were done in full sight of other nearby travelers. I'm of German/English/Irish decent and haven't a clue why I was singled out twice for a partial strip-search.

AK Curtis, California, US

It's the inconsistency which grates deeply such that you never know what to expect. LHR-HAM, in hand luggage a nail clipper with v short stubby no sharp edges nail file was acceptable but wasn't on the return journey from Germany and nail file was broken off. BA's own carry on baggage rules concerning musical instruments is also perverse. On the outward journey it's not counted in the cabin allowance but it is on the return journey. What sort of policy is that? Finally, note that the staff carrying out the security checks are contractors not permanent (eg, BAA) staff so inconsistencies within countries will tend to widen. They'll follow their supervisors without necessarily knowing or understanding the rules from the authorities. Also, can't they tell that a container is 100ml approx without having to have it stamped on the plastic?

Charles Brookes, Berkshire, UK

I've travelled to and within the US nearly every month for the last 10 years and regularly since the early 80s. The TSA staff are humourless and intolerant, unless they want to be funny in which case they can be childish and patronising. Generally they are inefficient, curt and totally intolerant of annoyance in passengers. If you get annoyed you get trouble, You have no rights. Especially if you are a visitor. Only worse place to be is in any US airport immigration hall where despite the 'courtesy code' non-US visitors are treated like 2nd class citizens and even denied use of their cellphones to notify airlines or relatives of delays in the self same immigration hall where immigration staff are completely unfriendly and routinely focused on servicing US citizens before visitors. The US is a great country but its officialdom can be really scary and bullying at times.

Mark Lewis, Caterham, UK

My hip replacement routinely trips the metal-detector alarm, so I'm normally subjected to extra patdowns (AKA groping) of not only my hip area, but my breasts, crotch and every other body part. If I ask for the groping to be done in private, it's made even more intrusive, to punish me for daring to ask for privacy. Yet the last two times I've been through a scanner in the US, it didn't alarm at all, which means it wasn't working. The TSA robots just kept funneling people through as if it were operational. TSA has become a bloated bureaucracy intent on justifying its own existence. It should be pared down, made smarter, and the staff replaced with employees who actually have working brains. And we Americans need to think too...we'd knock someone silly if they grabbed our private parts in public in any other situation, but we routinely go along with it in airports in the name of "security", like a lot of mindless sheep.

Callie Mack, San Diego, US

I have flown about 20 times (national and international) in the USA in the last 18 months or so. In the USA, I was always made to remove my shoes for scanning - except when I made an internal flight transfer within the secure area of an airport. That is why I wear slip-on shoes. I wonder where are these airports where the TSA does not apply the standards. I thought it was federal law - no ifs, ands or buts. Due to PC considerations, the US government is scared stiff of applying selectivity rules when it comes to personal searches. They are afraid of a possible backlash from certain groups. "Yes, Ma'am, I don't care if you are 93 years old, you must get out of the wheel chair and submit to a search because you were randomly chosen".

Lloyd Davies, Chelmsford, US

Though my daughter lives in California, I refuse to fly into/out of the US. I am 72 years old. The last 6 times I have flown into/out of the US I have been "randomly" chosen to have my carry-on rifled. I have flown to both Europe and South America without suffering gratuitous indignities. The TSA indulges in security theatre, no more.

Peter Salus, Toronto, Canada

Airport security measures in the USA for the most part are redundant and do not seem to be based on rational data and evaluations. I have yet to find any rational basis for a 4 oz fluid limit. Having millions of people for years remove their shoes based on a single incident 8 years ago clearly is overkill, 'kill' especially to the airline industry and those of us already more and more reluctant to travel by air. The body scan is the latest trend toward demeaning and aggravating passengers. One cannot help but wonder how much of these measures are based on enhancing the profits of security companies.

A Clark, Seattle, US

I find it ridiculous that this airline is claiming we are forcing security checks internationally that are not done internally. I have flown recently from the UK to the US, and frequently fly US domestic flights, and found no difference in security procedures aside from having to go through customs and declare items. Every time I've flown domestically in the US, I do have to remove my laptop for additional screening. I have to remove my shoes. I have to go through metal detectors, often chemical sensors, have my luggage thoroughly searched, and often get pulled out for random extra searches, full-body pat-downs, etc.

MH, Michigan, US

I'm surprised that people in Britain would complain about these security checks given past incidence of airline bomb attempts. People need to understand what it means if a lapse in security leads to a bomb getting onto a plane. I have been to two African airports, Harare International and Bole in Addis Ababa as well as Guanzhou in China; in all cases removal of shoes was mandatory and I did not see anyone having a big deal over that. Clearly, the British need to understand that they may pay a heavy price for their impatience with airport procedures.

Tinashe Hondova, Harare, Zimbabwe

I have personal experience of traveling through US airports on both domestic and international flights. My travel on domestic flights is mostly between major airports such as Boston, Miami, NY, Chicago and Los Angeles, but I also use some not so major airports such as Manchester, New Hampshire. I find the level of conformance of US airports on domestic flights to be the same as on international flights. Shoes require removal, there is a restriction to the size of liquid bottles in carry on items, laptops must be removed from their bags etc. Yes it is an inconvenience but it is one I am quite willing to put up with if it keeps myself and other passengers safe. I think it would be a mistake for UK observers to view differences in application of standards at some US airports as a reason to not apply high security standards on flights between UK and US destinations. Experiences of 9/11 and 7/7 have shown that both UK and US are vulnerable to attack. Lets do what we need to do!

Bill Abraham, New Hampshire, UK

For the past 24 years I have made numerous visits to the UK from the USA (I am a British citizen) with no problem, but returning to the USA, now has become so bad I no longer wish to fly again. Once upon a time flying was fun but no longer. I have had many hold ups at Immigration, Security and Customs. It seemed that because I am British I was singled out. Another time AA tried to charge me $50 extra for 7lbs. overweight, I quickly attained a plastic bag and transferred a few items. So YES, I do get annoyed, I have been through all this removing shoes etc. and cannot take anymore. There was one trip where I had a 3 hour lay over before a connecting flight from Washington DC to Tampa, I barely made it because of all the rigamarole I was subjected to and became the last passenger to board my flight. Whilst I agree precautions need to be taken, I personally think the US is taking it too far.

Ken Budden, Brooksville, Florida

On my last trip to America in 2008 I was stopped for extra searches at every airport I passed through. When I asked one airport employee why I kept being singled out, I was told it was most likely my "Islamic looking beard" fitting the "standard profile". (I'm actually an Australian of Anglo-Celtic descent.) So it would seem the top tip for potential terrorists is, remember to shave! After that trip I vowed to only fly when there was no other viable alternative and I have not boarded a plane since. The whole experience of flying has become so third class with airports regarding everyone as criminals and airlines treating passengers as livestock. Travelling overland using cars, trains and ferries has reignited my love of travel as each journey now feels like a proper adventure rather than a stressful commute.

Darcy, Hull, UK

I have traveled by air inside and outside the USA before and after 9/11.The worst time for length of screening came in the months after 9/11 but has rapidly improved in speed and efficiency since that time. I have found no real difference in screening, while traveling to and from Europe or inside the USA. A simple plan to arrive slightly earlier is usually sufficient. Complain, if you must, to those people who caused all this in the first place and not at the authorities who are simply trying to protect their citizens. The US has no reason to yield to anyone in protecting its citizens and its home. Deal with it.

Garland Byron, Indiana, US

Actually, the UK security measures seem a bit excessive too. This past summer, I boarded a British Airways flight from Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow, going through the usual security process at CDG. Then, at Heathrow, we were put through yet another security screening for the ongoing flight to the US even though we remained within the security cordon the whole time. Consistency should begin at home.

Holmes Brannon, Colorado, US

Comments: I travel to us a couple of time each year to USA. I do not mind the checks at all. The security in this country is not as strict as some other EU airports such as Prague. They also make you take you laptop out of your bag and check it. Taking your shoes of is not an issue even in this country as you always have to wait in a line to go through so there is plenty of time to take them off. I prefer to travel safely. About time we had our own TSA in the UK.

Les Bentley, Flintshire, UK

I will be flying to the UK in a matter of days, so this question's pretty important. I, for one, would not mind dealing with airport security, as I've nothing to hide. It comes with the territory. When I traveled to and from Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, I was required to go through strict security (especially when traveling on El Al). I knew the reason for this was to keep me, and all my fellow passengers, safe. People need to have patience.

Pat Finnegan, Syracuse, US

We fly from Manchester on a regular basis to many destinations. Manchester staff insist you only have one piece of carry on luggage including laptops. If on a flight as we often do to an ongoing flight from Heathrow then the rules within the UK change as Heathrow do not count your laptop as an extra bag. I appreciate any caution and if that causes delays then that is not a problem but all airports within the UK should surely operate the same proceedures and this would cease all the stress to passengers at Manchester which we have seen many times

Bev Hurrell, Bridlington, UK

As a frequent global traveller, I always avoid the US wherever possible for a number of reasons, all pertaining to the overall travel experience. Excessive security, brusque to the point of rudeness immigration staff and the ever changing passenger information requirements.

Rhys Morgan, Bridgnorth, UK

When it comes to my safety in a plane I want it to be 100% safe, regardless of the time it takes. I flew back from South Africa on the first anniversary of 9/11 and due to a technical problem while embarking we were asked to leave the plane and wait an hour before reboarding. Most of us chose to get a snack and read a book but some complained about the delay and were rude to the BA crew. Myself and several other older male brits defended the crew and their actions.

Steve Morton, Cirencester, UK

I can pack small scissors in my carry on bag and fly from any US airport to any airport worldwide with no problem. I cannot fly back to the US with the same scissors from many airports, including CDG.

Jan Harrington, New York, US

I have absolutely no problems with the current security checks (both here in the UK and the US). As far as I am concerned, they should be kept as they are.

Mike, Oxfordshire, UK

If the security check gave me any assurance of greater safety I would be eager to comply, however all it does is to cause a whole lot of disruption and inconvenience by heavy handed goons who seem to get off on the petty authority they wield over the travelling public.

Bruce R Goddard, Houston, US

I take several trips a month within the US and have just completed two trips abroad, once to the UK, and once to Russia. I've been traveling heavily for several years and have seen a marked improvement in the overall efficiency of TSA service (in contrast to four years ago, when I had a horrific and inexcusable experience because I have a disability which a scanner refused to recognize). On several occasions I have thanked scanners for their courtesy and help (I must move my shoes for medical reasons). There are plenty of idiocies in the system, including the rules about liquids and shoes, and the failure of the government to upgrade technology to do things like check shoes. As for Heathrow and airports in Russia and Germany, processes there seemed rather good and not very different than in the US -- Russia took my shoes for scanning, but Germany and the UK did not. My sense is that there are chronic complainers who love to spout off about much of everything. I am also of the very firm opinion that the customer service of many of the main US carriers and, sadly, BA (which recently treated me in a terrible and stupid way), is far worse than TSA. Never thought I would say this, but I just did!!

Ron Goodenow, Massachusetts, US

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

More US & Canada stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Leonardo da Vinci Self-PortraitMagical masterpiece

    The Leonardo hidden from Hitler in case it gave him special powers


  • Woman smelling pot of herbsWake up

    Is eating sage better for your alertness than coffee?


  • "$4BN" written on dollar billAn oligarch election?

    The super-rich, secret donors and rise of ‘dark money’


  • Zoe Quinn'GamerGate'

    The developer forced to leave her home due to threats


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • MonkeyMeet the tarsier

    The BBC travels to a Philippine island that is home to the world's oldest primate

Programmes

  • Francis Rossi, co-founder of band Status QuoHARDtalk Watch

    Status Quo's Francis Rossi explains how alcohol led him to take cocaine

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.