Each time when you are travelling by plane at first you have to go through a long and tedious maze of checkpoints and make sure your baggage does too. The list of restrictions on what you are allowed to have onboard changes depending on the route you are taking. Passengers often get bored with the extensive safety routines, many of which seem ineffective. The question stands – why have they been installed in the first place? Here’s a list of six airport safety measures and the tragic events that have triggered them.
Screening of passengers and their carry-on bags
1960s – The golden age of hijackers. Planes are commandeered often but mostly by people desperate to run away or get a hefty ransom. Though, things got a bit out of hand some time later.
November 10, 1972. Moments after takeoff, Southern Airways Flight 49 is hijacked by three men brandishing grenades and handguns who threaten to fly into a nuclear power plant if the demanded $10 million ransom is not paid. Luckily, there were no victims and Cuban authorities managed to seize the hijackers.
To evade any other such incidents, the Federal Aviation Administration decides to act and by January 5, 1973 all US airline travelers as well as their carry-on bags are physically screened, thus raising even more talks about improvement of airport safety in the States. That later led to carry-on bags being screened by X-ray and metal detectors.
All luggage must be X-rayed
Pan Am Flight 103 (or Lockerbie bombing) occurred in 1988 on a regular flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York. Mid-air an inside explosion struck the plane. The bomb hidden in a radio-cassette player left no survivors after the plane plunged into the ground.
In response, the entire luggage boarding the plane has to be X-rayed on many of flights. The baggage also has to be matched with the passengers. Previously, only carry-on baggage would go through metal detectors and X-ray.
No pointy object or knives
Everyone is aware of the most tragic event in the history of aviation –9/11. Though to perpetrate the attack, the terrorists did not need guns or grenades, they managed to capture the planes with box cutters. Interestingly, four of the attackers set off metal detectors, then were checked with hand-held detectors and still let through. Back then, knives of such type were allowed on planes.
After the attacks, airport security was enhanced with better screening and identification checks, including prohibition of bringing sharp items further than the screening area. This also had an impact on aircraft security with now bulletproof and reinforced cockpit doors through which passengers were no longer allowed to walk.
Remove the shoes
Just months after the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda unsuccessfully attempted another attack. A militant of the organization, Richard Reid, managed to smuggle a bomb concealed in his shoes through all the airport security checks, however, because of perspiration the explosive within the shoe was dampened and the flight attendant who noticed Reid trying to light the fuse raised the alarm, hence stopping him.
To make sure no such attack is repeated, airports in some countries ask you to remove your shoes before passing through scanners. Though, some people argue that this process exposes people to injuries and feet to fungus.
Keep the bottles small
With ever-growing security concerns and safety measures, evildoers became more and more creative. In 2006, after the thorough surveillance involving hundreds of officers, British police, foiled a plot to detonate peroxide-based explosives on flights from the UK to the US and Canada.
The reaction regarding security concerns was immediate from the British and American sides, it involved a ban on bringing any liquids apart from baby milk through the airport security checkpoints. However, such a measure caused a public outrage and was cancelled. Instead new restrictions appeared across the countries, like the prohibition of bringing liquids in bigger bottles in hand luggage in the EU, or 3-1-1 rule (3.4 ounce containers in a 1 quart bag, 1 bag per passenger) in the US.
Full body scan
Though full body scanners began to replace metal detectors since 2007, they became to be seen as a necessity by such agencies as the TSA after al-Qaeda’s failed bombing attempt on Christmas Day of 2009. One of the passengers smuggled plastic explosives sewn to his underwear, yet was stopped by another passenger after trying to set off the explosives.
Apart from improving security for the Christmas period, a lot was done on the implementation of millimeter wave scanners, which detect objects concealed underneath person’s clothes by applying electromagnetic radiation as well as backscatter X-ray which in contrast to traditional X-ray machines detects the radiation reflecting from the target.
Nevertheless, there was and still is plenty of critique regarding these devices. Backscatter X-ray is said to have a small but negative impact on people’s health as the radiation is considered carcinogenic. On the other hand, millimeter wave scanners are only guessed to be carcinogenic. These devices also raise privacy concerns, because they display surface of the skin under clothing, which is why nowadays the scanners are modified to show a more cartoon-like picture and people are given choice to be pat-down by a representative of the same gender instead.