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“Did You Pack Your Own Bags?” and other pointless airport security questions…

We’re off on our holidays, but (groan) we are stuck in the airport because our plane has been delayed – again!

An Airbus in downtown Hong Kong

The last time I flew, I had to tend to a medical emergency...

The reward for hours of waiting for security and immigration checks is… even more waiting! It’s been a bit like queueing to get on a ride at DisneyLand: The line deceptively curves and bends behind buildings and scenery so you never really know how long you are going to wait. Our hope is that the end result of all the sitting around will be somewhat more worthwhile – and less eventful – than a runaway train on Big Thunder Mountain! And please no medical emergencies like last time

Perhaps it’s the jet lag setting in;  maybe it’s the boredom – but my wife and I have decided that airport security questions such as “Have you packed these bags yourself, sir?” are pretty pointless and should be replaced with some far more interesting alternatives… 

Do Airport Security Questions Work?

Ever since 9/11, airport security have – quite understandably – been going to great lengths to prevent any future terrorist outrages. They have had some mixed successes: Manchester airport have recently had to abandon a computerised facial recognition system after it rather embarrassingly confused a husband with his wife!

So at least there are those trustworthy security questions to fall back on…right?!

“Has anyone asked you to bring anything with you?” can be a tricky question to answer. What if your Great-Aunt Glenda had asked you to take a pot of her home-made pickle with you? Should you lie for the sake of speed, or be honest and have your bags emptied and examined?

Timeline of airport security costs. Click to enlarge (Source: BMJ)

Although most airports would be too cautious to consider changing these ‘tried and tested’ questions, the scientific community has cast serious doubt on whether they would actually stop potential terrorist. Despite the millions of pounds and dollars thrown into airport security in recent years, much of it has very little (if any) evidence that it actually works! An article in the British Medical Journal showed that most airport security measures wouldn’t even pass the most basic scrutiny that would be required for a simple medical test.

It’s not that I am against improving airport security; but given the vast amounts of money invested, doesn’t it make more sense to see how well a system works before lobbing out the cash?  X-ray scanners and electronic sniffer dogs may well sound sexy and make for a good news headline but their introduction is more-often driven by political motives than on evidence for saving lives

The Alternative Questions Airport Security should Ask…

Airport Security -- New Rules

Could these be the next set of security rules?

Here are a few tongue-in-cheek alternative airport security questions… Don’t you think these would be much more useful?

“If the plane were to crash, what would you like your last meal to be? Meat or Vegetarian?”

“Do you have a personal hygiene problem? Do you snore when sleeping?”

“If you packed your own bags… Will we find anything that you wouldn’t want your Grandmother to see?”

“Would you like a seat next to an old woman who snores or a teenager with a personal hygiene problem?”

Do you have any other questions or any amusing airport stories? Feel free to add your suggestions by commenting below or tweet your funny stories!

References:

Linos, E., Linos, E., & Colditz, G. (2007). Screening programme evaluation applied to airport security BMJ, 335 (7633), 1290-1292 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39419.662998.BE

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

3 thoughts on ““Did You Pack Your Own Bags?” and other pointless airport security questions…

  1. best response: Do I look like the sort of person that packs their own bag? (said in a snotty tone) Its rather distressing to have to admit that you did indeed pack your own bag, especially publicly!

    Posted by Nic | November 8, 2013, 1:04 am

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