Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport
As promised, here is the second installment in the series on security in Israel, this time focusing on those things that don’t translate. Last week I talked about a few things that could be applied here.
As has already been stated multiple times, the fact that Israel has as many flights (almost all of them from one airport) in a full day as Chicago O’Hare has in an hour or two, makes certain things possible there that would be impossible here. If we tried to apply the system directly, it would shut air travel down. Just thinking about imposing their system, in its entirety on O’Hare or Reagan National or any of a number of places makes me shudder.
Most Americans, when they talk about Israeli security and say we need to do what they do here, believe that the profiling system used in Israel would let most of us skip merrily through the airport experience with barely any attention at all. That’s just not the case. Everyone gets profiled in Israel. You get profiled when you drive up to the airport, when you walk through the door and before you ever get to the check in counter. At least two of these three involve a conversation. They might be relatively short conversations, but multiplied out over thousands and thousands of people over a full day at a large U.S. airport, it would lead to delays that no passenger would tolerate. And, that is for people who would pass through those conversations with no problem. For others, well it can take much longer. They NEED to do this in Israel and they have a system that can tolerate it. We don’t.
By the way, the first of those conversations occurs when you drive up and a long way from the front door. Many airports (Reagan National, LaGuardia and many others) just don’t have that kind of geography.
It is also worth noting that Israeli security personnel, even the screeners at the checkpoint, have all, by and large, been through 2-3 years of military service and training. When you spend time in Israel it is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t just what a difference this makes. And, not just at the airport, but everywhere even restaurants and hotels and stores. Every Israeli, by their early to mid-20’s, has served in the military. They bring a sense of discipline and responsibility to any job that comes with such service. Many talk about screeners and other personnel in the United States not having the training and experience, and the fact that screeners don’t last a long time in their jobs; it is not a decades-long career path for most people. That’s true in Israel too. But, the training received in the military does make a big difference. We need to do better on training here, but we can never duplicate the backgrounds all security personnel have in Israel.
It is also worth noting that a large percentage of airport staff work in security, and it has been reported in the paper that Israel spends about 10 times as much, per passenger, as we do here. Our system could never tolerate that, and luckily we don’t need to go to such lengths.
So, when you hear people say we should just do what they do in Israel, we should apply some perspective. Yes, there are things we can bring over here and I wrote about many of those last week. Here’s another: what about a “positive” profiling system where people can opt in, provide a certain amount of information, and go through expedited screening. This would not just be a front of the line program, and would only make sense if a large enough number of people enroll. It would be voluntary. It’s one idea. But it is also worth noting that passengers in Israel have already been “profiled” before they reach the checkpoint, everyone is treated the same at the checkpoint. Here, the checkpoint is the place where TSA and passengers interact. So, the “benefits” received by people enrolling in such a program are a little tougher to quantify.
Israel is a wonderful place; I told one airport director that the trip last month is the one I will remember the longest. Having the opportunity to be briefed on aviation security there is a wonderful thing, and I’ve now done it twice. There is much we can learn. And, there is much we just can’t translate to our experience here.