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The challenge for airline security

With airlines scrambling to devise high-tech solutions in a post-Sept. 11 world, Sabre executive Chris Serafin cautions against the comforting illusion that security precautions can rest on technology alone.

In our eagerness to create and implement standards and solutions that meet new air travel safety requirements, customer service cannot be compromised. In fact, to secure the health of the air travel industry, the industry needs to make travelers feel safe, and travel must also be convenient and time-efficient.

These days, travelers can spend hours waiting in line to go through security. So why fly if you can take a car or taxi to your destination more quickly and easily? More and more travelers are opting to travel as much as 10 hours by car rather than deal with the hassles of airport security. To win back consumer confidence and make air travel "worthwhile" again, we must make it not only safe but also uncomplicated and sensible as well.

Consequently, the safest and most efficient travel environment should address the traveler, the process and the technology.

Security is an evolving and comprehensive progression made up of complementary layers. Furthermore, multiple parties have a responsibility to make air travel safer. U.S. government efforts, airlines, airports, technology developers and even travelers themselves all must do their part to ensure a more secure travel environment. The combined efforts of many must, in fact, work together to create a single system that considers each detail and concern.

"Even a single technology that greatly reduces incidences of human error and helps make the security process less cumbersome for travelers must be viewed as only one component of the process."
Biometrics has recently emerged as a leading component of airport security and passenger processing. New fingerprint identification technology utilized at the point of check-in, for instance, has been developed that returns a less than 1 percent margin of error. It has been proven that these security enhancements expedite the airport check-in process by 75 percent.

Sabre Holdings has recently developed the first prototype biometric self-service kiosk. This prototype uses fingerprint scanning technology to affirm the identity of the traveler and trigger the transaction process. Using this leading-edge technology, along with traditional security checkpoints and secure document authentication for boarding entitlements, passports and other travel documentation, adds a system of checks and balances to today?s airports, helping create a more convenient and safe journey for travelers. This type of technology, easily incorporated into an airline's existing infrastructure, is cost-efficient and minimally disruptive, and its further use will only enhance the ability of human screeners to process more passengers in less time, without compromising security.

Biometrics certainly can play an important role in addressing security concerns while enhancing the customer service experience. However, even a single technology that greatly reduces incidences of human error and helps make the security process less cumbersome for travelers may be only one component of the process. The most effective procedures will seamlessly incorporate various technological and human elements into the various layers of airport security infrastructure.

"We cannot become complacent in believing that a single technology or even generation of technologies will solve airport security concerns."
These layers will not just be addressed at the airport. Rather, the security and customer service procedures will begin at the moment the need or decision to travel is established.

For example, there is technology available today that allows booking agents to verify a traveler's identity even before a reservation is made. Similarly, there are developments that allow a passenger to perform an identity authorization, secure seat assignments and request flight preferences prior to getting to the airport.

For example, frequent flyers could have the ability to preregister for a ?trusted traveler? program while waiting for a flight in the lounge. Preregistering passengers allows airlines to fast-track known travelers through security checks, thus allowing staff members to focus on higher-risk passengers. In addition, airlines could target these passengers to provide a higher-level customer service.

Additionally, once a ?trusted traveler? arrives at the airport, the traveler can check-in and obtain a boarding pass through a self-service check-in kiosk, shaving minutes off check-in wait time.

At the same time, to ensure technology is used effectively, there must be a focus on improved training and continuing education for the 28,000 security personnel now under the authority of the U.S. government.

This includes ensuring they are up-to-date with the latest security tools and means to utilize the technology most effectively. Such training will limit, even further, the chances of security breaches and will help get travelers back to the skies with greater confidence.

We cannot become complacent in believing that a single technology or even generation of technologies will solve airport security concerns. Solutions must continue to evolve, and implementing them will be the responsibility of the companies developing the technologies, the airlines and airports that employ them, and the government screeners who are trained to use them.

Only when these comprehensive security measures are virtually invisible to the traveler and make air travel "time worthy" again will the travel and technology suppliers have truly done their jobs.