The Airport Security And Safety In Air Travel Tourism Essay

The travel and tourism industry is constantly subjected to change both internal and external. Changes in American foreign policy and the invasion of Iraq have caused an increase in terrorism and terrorist events, such as September 11th 2001 which have caused significant changes in air travel and passengers perception of safety. As a result, airport screening and travel safety regulations have undergone scrupulous changes.

The findings, which were taken from an online survey of 200 respondents, sub-categorised as industry employees, frequent travellers and casual travellers revealed that respondent’s perception to safety in air travel was of concern. Although they felt security was important there was a need to improve upon screening methods to speed up wait time at checkpoints while ensuring screening was sufficient to deter possible terrorist attacks. The study looked at a number of personal factors, including gender and age. A main factor observed within the research is nationality, comparing American perceptions against those of Europeans, concluding that Americans perception against Europeans favour equally on security importance but that Americans preferred a cruise vacation opposed to Europeans who continued to fly. In light of the findings it is recommended that governments and tourism official’s co-ordinate efforts to improve on current pre-screening and airport screening methods whilst reducing passenger wait time.

Keywords: Airport Security, Air Safety, Terrorism, Passenger perceptions

Word count: 6,217


The main aim of this paper is to determine passenger perceptions of airport security and safety in air travel. Tourism and security incidents are inevitably interwoven phenomena (Mansfield & Pizam, 2006:1). When a security incident such as terrorism takes place the tourism industry and tourists are directly affected. Therefore, our notions of security have broadened significantly since major terrorist events such as the attacks on America on September 11th 2001. As people show reluctance to fly in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the impacts to the industry can be considered catastrophic. Hall et al notes that consumer confidence in safety and security of travel decrease significantly (2003:20). As a result, the American government and governments globally reacted by implementing tighter control in airport and air travel security with carry on restrictions and advanced checkpoint screening technology.

1.1 Identification of research area

The main area of research that this paper will focus on will be the study of people’s perception of current and future airport security technology and procedures at airport checkpoints. The study will look at industry employees, frequent travellers and casual traveller’s perception on flying in regard to safety concerns with a focus on determining if American perceptions differ from Europeans. The research conducted will determine if an increase in security procedures and restricted items allowed onboard will deter passengers from flying and cause them to seek alternate travel methods. Following on from this, the aim of this paper will also be to identify if airport security checkpoints will endure delays due to tighter security controls and if passengers are prepared to embrace these changes.

1.2 The aims and objective of the research

The aim and objectives of this research paper are:

To examine whether or not recent terrorist activities have had an influence on traveller’s decision to fly.

To evaluate the role of airport security as a mechanism for reassuring or discouraging traveller’s to fly.

To assess both current and proposed future airport security methods including advanced procedures.

To appraise traveller’s attitudes and future intentions towards airport security and international travel.

Using an online questionnaire the research will adopt a quantitative approach in data collection focusing on passenger views. Previous research has focused on methods of securing international airports and how previous terrorist events had affected the industry. This research paper will aim to fill the gap on research by identifying how these changes to the industry affect passengers in making the decision to fly.

This study will now review previous literature on air travel, terrorism and security.

2.0 Literature Review

Tourism is irrevocably bound up with the concept of security. Tourist behaviour and consequently destinations are deeply affected by perceptions of security and the management of security, safety and risk. (Hall et al, 2003:2) In most cases, security incidents cause changes in tourist’s perception of risk and thus are always translated into travel decisions (Mansfield & Pizam, 2006:7). Research into the relationship between tourism and terrorism acts affecting tourists’ safety or perceptions of safety, started receiving attention from numerous authors in the early 1990s. Brunt et al, (2000:418) and Pearce (1988:28) suggest that personal security is a major factor in the decision-making process through which individuals make their travel choices.

Page (2005) notes that since the 9/11 attacks and subsequent global terrorism events, tourist security issues have become the number one concern for travellers. He further states that much pressure to reassure passengers has fallen upon airlines and airports. The airport has significant responsibility due to its sifting and search functions to ensure passengers do not carry prohibited items onboard. In a more recent publication Page further discusses the US (United States) and the U.K. (United Kingdom), reporting a downturn in international visitor arrivals after terrorist attacks within that country (2009).

2.1 Terrorism

Terrorism is not something which is likely to diminish and is almost certain to increase. In general, it may increase in quantity, range and severity due to a number of factors, exponential in themselves (Brenchley, 1986:2). The increasing incidence of attacks on civil aircraft is causing wide international concern and there is an urgent need to pool information and resources, to review present procedures, tighten controls and introduce more preventative measures. Air travel is particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks (Brenchley, 1986:1) and the airline industry is inherently unstable because it is an industry constantly buffeted by new and often unexpected developments and constraints both internal and external (Doganis. 2006:1). The structure of an aircraft makes it highly susceptible to damage from devices primed to explode during flight and once a plane is airborne it is isolated from possibilities of government intervention through armed forces. Brenchley (1986:2) discusses the two main manifestations of terrorist attacks; the planting of explosive devices timed to detonate mid-flight and hijacking with the option of negotiating demands for hostage release.

2.2 The Airline Industry Post 9/11

September 11th 2001, the terrorist attacks on the world trade centre (New York) and the Pentagon (Washington, D.C.), changed the inbound, outbound and domestic flow of tourists as the industry came to an abrupt halt and air transportation remained grounded for three days (Hall et al, 2003:20).

The effective shutdown of airspace resulted in mass cancellation of domestic and international inbound and outbound flights and left hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded. According to the Association of European Airlines, between September 11th and the end of 2001, traffic on the North Atlantic routes dropped by 30%, translating to a loss of almost 3 million passengers for European airlines (Doganis, 2006:10). The concept of security, at present, is central not only to tourism but indeed the wider world. This is not just a result of September 11th 2001 terrorism attacks in the US but also a result of major shifts in American foreign policy, the American invasion of Iraq, ongoing concerns regarding the armed expression of religious and political fundamentalism and fears for economic and personal health and well being (Hall et al, 2003:2).

In the weeks following September 11th, about two thirds of US leisure travellers indicated reluctance to fly, while 55% of business travellers planned to drive were feasible as opposed to flying (Hall et al, 2003:21). While US jetliners have been hijacked many times before; TWA 847 hijacked between Rome and Athens in 1985; and a Pam Am flight hijacked in Karachi in 1986; the planes always landed and while lives were lost, many more were saved. Using hijacked planes as a missile was something new and inconceivable and the reaction was instantaneous. While Sonmez (1998) notes that the reaction to terrorism among tourists is frequently delayed by about three months as people have already made their plans and are unwilling to change them, this time the impact was immediate (Hall et al, 2003:23).

As with risk perceptions, when safety concerns are introduced into travel decisions, they are likely to become the overriding factors, altering the context of conventional decision-making models and causing travellers to amend travel plans (George, 2002:578).

In addition to airports, the terrorist attacks spawned new and tightened security measures at high rise hotels and restaurants, entertainment centres, sea ports, bus stations, sports stadiums and other places in the US where large numbers of people, including tourists, are likely to gather (Goodrich, 2002:574).

As terrorism is rare, the best defences are largely invisible (Schneier, 2010:1). Governments have a basic responsibility to ensure the survival of their nation (Elliott, 1997:54). The US State Department issues a travel advisory to U.S. citizens to avoid certain countries (Goodrich, 2002:576) and the U.K. operates “Watch Lists” set up to alert security services. The US government provided $5 billion of direct grants to US carriers to mitigate the disastrous impact of the September 11th 2001 attacks (Doganis, 2006:7) and governments across Europe responded immediately to the impacts.

The attacks triggered an outpouring of public sympathy and government solidarity with the U.S. The French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed “Nous sommes tous américains [1] “; in the German Bundestag, Chancellor Schröder pledged “Uneingeschränkte Solidaritat [2] ; and NATO theoretically invoked the collective defence article 5 for the first time in the history of the alliance (Toje, 2008:119).

On 27th September 2001, in a speech to airline employees in Chicago, President Bush outlined a package of new airline security proposals in the wake of the terrorist attacks (Anon, 2001:20). The U.K. Prime Minister, Tony Blair, set out his views on a general response to the terrorist attacks in the debate on international terrorism during parliamentary recall, emphasising the urgency to rethink the scale and urgency the world takes to combat terrorism to make it more effective.

2.3 Changes in Airport Security

TSA (Transportation Security Agency) officially took over the responsibility for airport security in 2002. Initially, TSA retained private security screeners. However, over a period of almost seven months employees began to conduct passenger-screening operations at all US airports (Blalock et al, 2005:5). The TSA implemented new security measures to include, shoe removal, x-ray scanning and limitations on carry-on items.

The two primary changes in airport security visible to passengers were the federalisation of passenger security screening at all U.S. commercial airports and international airports operating US bound flights by November 19, 2002, and the requirement to begin screening all checked baggage by December 31, 2002. To implement these mandates, the TSA established 158 Federal Security Director positions charged with overseeing security operations at all 429 commercial airports in the U.S. While these new security regulations were enacted to ensure passenger safety and restore confidence in the U.S. aviation system, they have made traveling less convenient (Blalock et al, 2005:2).

Initially, TSA allocated screeners based on airport passenger volumes and screening lanes. According to the House Subcommittee on Aviation Security, this resulted in “thousands standing around” at major connecting airports, where most passengers do not pass through screening, and shortages at origin and destination airports (Subcommittee on Aviation, 2004:27).

Since September 11th, the best example of increased inconvenience is the need for passengers to arrive at airports as much as two hours prior to scheduled departures. Similarly, the random hand-searches of passengers and their carry-on baggage, the prohibitions regarding various seemingly non-dangerous items such as nail clippers and the overall greater scrutiny all reduce the convenience of air travel (Woodward and DeLollis, 2003:9). Sharkey (2002) notes that airlines claim that the increased inconvenience caused by security measures has cost them billions in lost ticket revenues, as business travellers opt to stay at home (pg.9).

On the other hand, several surveys conducted since September 11th 2001 have found that passengers are willing to accept a little inconvenience with higher ticket costs and increased security measures in order to feel more secure (Travelocity, 2002:9).

Moreover, these surveys support TSA claims that the security measures implemented since 9/11 increase passengers’ confidence in the safety of air travel (Compart, 2004).

The attempted attack on Christmas day 2009 from Amsterdam on a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit has since sparked further concerns amongst travellers and prompted Governments globally to react. The U.K. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, responded to the attempted attack by stating the U.K. will “move quickly” to enhance airport security after the “wake-up call” of the failed Detroit plane attack (BBC. 2010).

BAA (British Airport Authority) spent £20m ({euro}28m; $41m) on airport security in 2007 alone. Add the $15bn that the government of the United States spent between 2001 and 2005 on aviation screening, or the estimated $5.6bn that worldwide airport protection costs each year, and we reach one conclusion – airport screening is extremely costly. Yet on 30th July 2007, the head of the International Air Transport Association, Giovanni Bisignani, launched a scathing attack on airport security in the United Kingdom: he claimed that the U.K.’s “unique screening policies inconvenience passengers with no improvement in security” (Linos et al, 2007).

The attempted Christmas Day attack reopened the debate of body scanners which produce a naked image of the passenger as they pass through and how airport security gaps need to be filled.

2.4 The future of Air Travel

In the months after September 11th, government officials globally talked about the expectance of technology which would plug gaps in airport security. Today however, airport checkpoints still rely on X-ray machines to scan carry-on bags, and passengers still pass through magnetometers that cannot detect plastic or liquid explosives. TSA regulations still force millions of passengers to check bags or pare down their toiletries to 3 ounce (100ml) containers in carry-on bags (Wilber, 2008).

The U.K. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, pledged to introduce full body scanners at all British airports. However, the BBC reports, The governments been under funding defence research which could have helped solve the problem and now we’re left in a position where the PM seems to think a couple of scanners are going to make a difference (BBC, 2010).

Whilst the British people seem reluctant to being subjected to a body scanner displaying a naked image, Australia and Canada have reacted on a more positive scale. Wholesalers are confident Australian travellers will take in their stride the U.S. government’s new draconian airport security regulations…. [and] in the main, Australians are more likely to embrace the regulations rather than oppose them (Travel Trade, 2010:4). Canadians are not at all shy about baring their all for the full body scanner. 73% of respondents are in favour of major airports across Canada installing scanners (Travel Courier, 2010:5).

Poole and Passantimo (2003) have put forward a more intelligent approach to airport security by apportioning security resources to passengers and baggage to estimated risk. Risk based security would mean a reduced focus on finding bad objects and an increase on finding potentially bad people. Weiner (2009) however, notes that passengers have simply become accustomed to the shoes and belts off, laptops out and hands up, that we no longer protest. According to Peterson, in microcosm, the liquids loopiness encapsulates everything that has gone awry with our response to the breach of airport security that took place on 9/11. The charges that it is all just security theatre resonate (2009).

Security theatre is a term that refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.

Schneier writes that when people are scared they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. It can be said that terrorists are not concerned about what they blow up and that changing airport security procedures may only force terrorists to make minor changes in their methods or targets. Schneier also notes the current response to terrorism as a form of “Magical Thinking.” It relies on the idea that we can make ourselves safer by protecting against what the terrorists happened to do last time (2010). He further states that security is both a feeling and a reality.

Counterterrorism is also difficult, the U.S. and the U.K., and indeed countries globally have embarked on strategies of defending targets against specific tactics, overreacting to terrorist videos, stoking fear, demonising ethnic groups and treating terrorists as if they were legitimate military opponents who could actually destroy a country. Schneier (2010) suggests this plays right into the hands of terrorists.

As passengers concerns over safety in the skies increased, the cruise industry benefited as bookings increased by 46% throughout the last 10 weeks of 2001 (MarineLog, 2002). Although “Tourism as a Force for Peace” has been a popular positive message relayed by the industry, consultants and some academics in recent years, the reality is that tourism has very little influence on peace and security issues, at least at the macro level, and that tourism is far more dependent on peace than peace is on tourism (Hall et al, 2003:3).

There is always the risk of handguns and explosives being smuggled onboard an aircraft. Brenchley states that security authorities need to have their airport defences placed under independent examination. He further adds that, ingenious and resourceful pseudo-terrorists, perhaps from special armed forces should be tasked to study the problem of breaching airport security. The researcher believes that the more gaps in defences that can be found and rectified, the better the chances of deterring future terrorist activity.


This paper will now continue to look at the research method used to collect the research data.

3.1 Background to Methodology

To effectively meet the objectives, a quantitative research design was used and the main technique employed was a hosted online survey, administering the website address via email and online forums. Three main areas were established for conducting research; Industry employees, frequent travellers and casual travellers. The data stored online not only provides an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional paper questionnaire but also provides a simplistic design of point and click for the user.

3.2 Research Methods

A survey, involving 200 people was hosted online during February 2010 (See appendix A). The online presence allowed data to be collected both within America and Europe. With the increase in online presence today and the growth of social networking, the survey URL was submitted to industry groups and fan pages.

Furthermore, links were posted on airline forums and individual emails were passed along amongst industry employee, enthusiasts and others alike. A reminder email was sent 3 days later for follow up. In order to get a representative cross-section of individuals the survey was distributed by email chains containing the survey web address one week later. The research data collection focuses on a quantitative approach, asking respondents for their views and perceptions and translating these into numeric values. The first section of the survey looks at demographics asking the user to state their gender and age. All respondents were then asked to give their perception on airport security on a scale factor of 5 options to include; strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree. In the second part the survey splits the user into a category, Industry employee, frequent traveller or causal traveller and allows each to give their perceptions of safety in air travel as a direct relation to their category. Industry employees are categorised further into ground staff or onboard crew. The industry employees largely consisted of Americans within a large international American airline and several respondents working for a large European airline with transatlantic routes. Industry employees were given the opportunity to express their views on airport screening and views of passenger perception onboard by using the scale factor. Frequent travellers were asked similar questions with comments on security wait time and perception of security and safety concerns. Casual travellers were asked if they had concerns over security and all respondents were asked if improved screening technology and further restrictions would deter them from travelling. Furthermore, casual travellers were asked if security affected their decision to fly and the data was analysed based on gender, age and nationality status.

All respondents were asked for their nationality. All Non-U.S. citizens were asked additionally if they had concerns over flying on transatlantic routes.

The data collected will be analysed based on gender and age but will also look at the views of respondents based on U.S. and Non-U.S. nationality. The research will determine, if any, a difference in perception amongst Americans and Europeans in relation to air travel safety, terrorism and airport security.

The final section of the survey focuses on all respondents perception on technology used at airport screening checkpoints. Regardless of category, all respondents have the option to express their view on the introduction of body scanners. Furthermore, all respondents are asked if improved technology will ease concerns over safety. Each question in this section will also be analysed based on age and gender whilst once again looking at the response from Americans and Europeans to determine any margins of difference.

3.3 Limitations

Preliminary findings for this study were based on exploratory research. One of the limitations for this research was online questionnaires, which possess weakness, were employed as the method of data collection. With an online questionnaire there is no control over the research setting, as such, users were left to complete the questionnaire at their own will. Furthermore, the email containing the questionnaire web link may have been passed along to friends and work colleagues. The online presence also limited the category in respect of age.

Younger respondents have greater computer literacy and seemed more willing to complete the questionnaire whereas older generations may not have had access to the internet. The data looked at perceptions based on geographic location, while the internet allows for global access, the distribution of the email was limited to respondents passing the link along to others and some may have considered the email to be spam and not opened the questionnaire.

4.0 Findings & Discussion

This paper will now analyse and discuss the findings from the data collection.

4.1 Introduction to findings

The findings are a direct result of an online questionnaire which remained active for 10 days. The quantitative research questionnaire allowed users to put forward their views and perception of air travel today and the future, in relation to perception of safety, terrorism and airport security. The data was correlated and analysed based on a number of variables to include age, gender, category and nationality. The information was also sub-divided to show, if any, a difference in American and European views on safety in air travel.

4.2 The Questionnaire Findings

Out of the 200 respondents 93 (46%) were male and 107 (54%) were female. 111 (55%) fell within the age category of 19-29 with 30-39 and 40-49 resulting in 32 (16%) and 23 (12%) respectively. 45 (23%) of the respondents were industry employed, 22 employed onboard as a pilot or flight attendant, 18 were ground staff at the airport, 1 worked within a travel agent and 4 specified other job role. 37(18%) were frequent travellers and 118 (59%) stated they were casual flyers. When asked to determine how important they felt airport security is on a scale of agreement, 140 (70%) stated that they strongly agree with 53 (26.5%) agreeing. Neutral or disagree equated for 7 (3.5%) of the findings. 37 (82%) of the 45 industry employees stated that they strongly agree, 24 (65%) of the 37 frequent travellers strongly agreed and 79 (67%) of the 118 casual travellers strongly agreeing that airport security was important. In relation to gender, 59 (63%) males and 81 (76%) females strongly agreed on the importance of airport security.

58 (29%) strongly agreed that government involvement was needed in airport security, 84 (42%) agreed, 38 (19%) remained neutral, 18 (9%) disagreed and 2 (1%) strongly disagreed. 57 (28.5%) of the respondents held residency in America, 131 (65.5%) in Europe and 12 (6%) stated other. 41 (72%) Americans, 92 (70%) Europeans and 9 (75%) from other parts of the world chose strongly agree or agree when asked if government involvement was necessary within airport security.

139 (69.5%) of respondents stated they were European or other. 26 (19%) suggested that air safety had effected their decision to fly to America whilst 113 (81%) suggested that terrorist attacks and air safety would not deter them from flying to America.

Amongst industry employees, 20 (45%) felt that an increase on restricted items onboard reduced safety concerns, whilst 24 (55%) felt that it would not. In relation to industry employees perception of safety on board, the result showed equal, 22 (50%) said there was a noticeable change in passengers perception of safety onboard the aircraft, whilst 22 (50%) also stated that there was no noticeable change. All 200 respondents were asked if their own concern of safety had increased with 166 (83%) remaining neutral. 25 (12.5%) of the respondents stated that they agreed or strongly agreed over their own concern increasing.

29 (78%) of the frequent travellers who completed the questionnaire stated that they had experienced considerable delays at the airport due to increased security, with 8 (22%) stating they had not. Amongst those frequent travellers, 5 (14%) had made alternate travel arrangement whilst 32 (86%) continued to fly.

91 (45.5%) people chose Airplane as their main method of transport when considering a vacation. 88 (44%) opted for a cruise, with car, bus and walking equating for the remaining 10.5%. 18 (9%) respondents took flying into consideration when booking a holiday destination and 96 (48%) did not. 13 (23%) of the 57 Americans suggested they would fly to their vacation destination but 38 (67%) opted for a cruise. In relation to Europeans however, 75 (57%) of 131 would fly opposed to 42 (32%) who would take a cruise.

Overall, 55 (27.5%) of the 200 respondents stated that an increase in security wait time at the airport would encourage them to seek alternate travel methods but 138 (69%) were prepared to wait in line. 37 (26%) of 143 respondents aged between 19 and 39 were willing to seek alternate travel arrangements as opposed to waiting while amongst respondents aged 40 and above, 17 (34%) of the 50 respondents were also willing to seek alternate arrangements. 42 (74%) of Americans agreed that the introduction of improved technology would create a sense of security and ease passenger concerns over safety. 108 (76%) of Europeans and Other also agreed with 14 (25%) and 29 (20%) of Americans and Europeans disagreeing respectively. In total, 150 (75%) people agreed that improved technology would ease concerns whilst 50 (25%) either disagreed or did not answer. In relation to gender, women, (86, 80%) felt improved technology would ease concerns more than men (64, 69%).

110 (55%) respondents felt that the introduction of body scanners would increase delays at checkpoints, 82 (41%) felt there would be no change in wait times and 8 (4%) chose not to respond.

This paper will now aim to discuss the findings from the online questionnaire.

4.3 Discussion

The findings conclude that tourism and indeed air travel security are essential aspects of the tourism industry. As shown in Fig. 1, 70% of respondents strongly agreed that airport security is important today, as a result of previous terrorist attacks. In total 96.5% agree on the importance overall. These findings are however, not surprising giving the global coverage and reactions towards terrorist events such as September 11th 2001, also, all respondents were linked to the air travel industry in some form.

Fig. 1. Airport security is important



Valid Percent

Strongly Agree




















Almost all industry employees (82%) strongly agreed that security was paramount with air travel, which is expected considering the sky is where they spend their days. In comparison females viewed a greater importance of security by strongly agreeing rather than males who simply agreed as shown on Fig 1.1.

The government has become heavily involved with regulating security procedures at airports nationwide and in greater context, globally. The future introduction of new technology and regulations has become a global affair and 71% of respondents collectively agreed (42%) or strongly agreed (29%) that governments should be involved with regulating and introducing security protocols at airports. (See Fig. 2) America, having been subjected to major terrorist events, showed a higher rate of need for government involvement (72%) with European respondents also in agreement (70%). 5% of responders commented on airport security and indicated that without security measures in place, terrorism was likely to increase. It is evident from this that airport security can play a major role in reassuring passengers globally that it is safe to fly, but on

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