Airport Security: Everything You Need To Know

The defining moment of changes in the approach to airport security was 9/11. In short, it was a game changer. Much in the world has changed since then. Many millions of people travel by air every year, and what we know for certain is it’s quite a process from the moment we enter the terminal building.

So, lets break it down and make the travel experience is as smooth as possible at both the departure and arrivals terminal. When traveling by air, preparation is the key to ensure efficient navigation through the terminal building as least disruptive as possible for you, the traveler.

Entering The Terminal Building

On approach to the terminal there are a significant number of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras installed in/on and around the terminal building. Generally the cameras are monitored by a Central Control Room within the terminal building. Staff receive specialized training to recognize suspicious activity in the generally populated areas of the terminal building, including public and administrative areas.


Additionally, there are many access control devices installed to doors within the terminal. The proximity card readers allow only those with authorized access to the door entry or egress from the area. The access control system records entry and egress times to the door by those authorized to use it. Access Control Systems integrate with CCTV to provide an additional layer of surveillance in specific areas around the terminal building.

Check In

Many airlines now offer online check-in facilities prior to arrival at the airport. This can be done via a smartphone using an app, or a laptop or computer. Most airlines have an app available where passengers are able check in up to 4hrs prior to their flight departure. Some app’s also contain your boarding pass, which can be presented at the boarding prior to entering the aircraft, replacing the traditional paper boarding pass. However, if traveling internationally, passengers will be required to present at the check-in counter together with their passport to validate the ticket and obtain a paper boarding pass.


Alternatively, if you prefer the traditional approach there are still a couple of options available. Firstly, passengers can take their position at the back of the line, present themselves and their printed ticket at the check-in counter, along with their luggage and a valid form of identification - passport for international travel, or driver's license for interstate travel. The airline representative will ask a number of questions pertaining to the contents of a passengers luggage including, if they are carrying batteries, flammable liquid or weapons. For obvious reasons these items are specifically excluded for travel, without first receiving prior approval from the airline.

Luggage will be labeled then removed from the weight counter and onto the conveyor belt. Luggage then passes through an x-ray machine along a series of conveyor belt systems, before being loaded onto a luggage trolley and transported to the aircraft by the baggage handlers. Passengers are required under law to disclose any/all prohibited items at check-in. If unsure, ask the airline representative.

Secondly, most airlines now offer kiosk points in proximity to the check in counter. A kiosk is a convenient alternative to lining up and waiting your turn to check-in. Simply enter your reservation number, or use the in-built scanner to read your ticket details from the barcode on your ticket. Once the data has been retrieved, simply select your preferred seating, print your boarding pass, place your luggage at the bag drop counter and you are good to go!

Interacting with any airline representative is the first line of defense for an airline. It’s the human factor, and as good as the surveillance technology is there is no substitute for a one on one. If a passenger appears anxious, aggressive suspicious, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, they may be immediately flagged or outright rejected for travel on the particular flight they intend to board. Always be courteous, honest and reasonable in your dealings with airport personnel, remember they face an onslaught of people from differing cultures, personalities and fragilities, day after day. This makes them excellent judges of character, even during brief interactions.

Airport Screening

Security screening of passengers occurs at every airport around the world, domestic or international. After checking-in, passengers are required to assemble at the airport's screening point prior to gaining access to the secure area of the airport. Any and all personnel including passengers, visitors, flight crew and airport workers are required to pass through the screening area.

Aviation security measures may vary from airport to airport, including the implementation of new rules which occur from time to time, the latest being by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which recently announced a stricter policy which requires passengers or others passing through the security screening area to remove all electronic items larger than a mobile telephone including tablets, video game consoles, laptops and e-readers from their bags. These items are to be placed on the trays provided to be inspected and x-ray screened.

Clearing-Security--1- Airport Security Made Easy Infographic

In order to ensure a smooth and quick transition through the security screening area passengers are well advised to prepare before arriving at the airport by understanding what they can and cannot carry on board an aircraft. During the screening process, passengers may undertake the following processes before being granted access to the secure side of the terminal building.

  1. Place all personal items, including wallets and purses into your carry-on luggage.

  2. Place the clear plastic bag containing toiletries including any liquid, gel and aerosol items into the supplied tray.

  3. Any other items including metal, such as coins, keys, jewelery, watches and all electronic items should also be placed into the tray at this time.

  4. Remove any bulky items of clothing you may be wearing including coat, jacket and hat and place them in the tray provided.

  5. Lay all carry-on luggage including bags onto the conveyor belt.

  6. Advise security screening personnel if you have any medical devices such as implants or other surgical products prior to being screened.

  7. When advised by the security officer, pass through the walk through metal detector. At some international airports you may be required to pass through a body scanner also.

  8. If you have been cleared, you may pass through and collect your belongings. If not, passengers may be required to undertake the screening process again until the issue is identified. This may include the use of other types of screening, including frisk search or the use of a hand-held metal detector.

  9. Finally, passengers may be randomly selected to undertake an explosive or drug detection testing just prior to leaving the screening area.

When passengers enter the security screening point at any airport, they are in effect granting permission and consent to each and every screening procedure the airport deems necessary. If a frisk search is requested, you will be asked to provide consent to this action. Passengers have the right to refuse any type of screening process utilized, however they will not be permitted to pass beyond the security area to board their scheduled flight.

What You Can't Take On Board

There are a number of items which are classed as prohibited items including weapons and dangerous or flammable products which passengers are unable to take on board an aircraft. If you have any doubts, then surrender these items at the security screening point. If you are unsure about what can and cannot be taken on board an aircraft, check with your airline prior to arriving at the airport, as some items are permitted to be carried in checked luggage, but not carry-on luggage.

There are a significant number of items which cannot be carried on board an aircraft including, but not limited to;

  • Kitchen utensils including knives, (including non-metal) metal cutlery and ice picks.

  • Sporting goods including darts, ice skates, rock climbing equipment and crampons.

  • Sharp items that are capable of causing harm through penetration including, letter openers, manicure scissors or scissors with a blade greater than 6cm long, and razor blades.

  • Blunt items which can be used to threaten or hit a person including, cricket, softball and baseball bats, pool or snooker cues and hockey sticks.

  • Any household flammable goods including, aerosol containers, toy caps, petrol or other flammable liquid.

  • Any item deemed capable of being able to restrain a person including cable ties and handcuffs.

Dangerous goods are classified as substances that may pose a risk when transported on an aircraft including lithium batteries, strong acids and compressed gases.

There are a great many types of items which pass may be prohibited at an airport security screening point, so always check with your airline prior to travel as new restrictions are implemented at greater frequency in the ever changing environment of airport and airline security.

Airside Versus Landside


Airside and landside are two distinct areas of any airport terminal building. Landside areas are generally defined as a low security area of the building, compared to airside. Locations such as the car park and general areas of the terminal including coffee shops, check-in counters and luggage collection points. Security is less visible and obtrusive landside, and travelers can generally move freely within this area, however passenger movements are monitored and continuously evaluated for any threat.


Airside on the other hand, is an area where the security risk is deemed to be higher. Passengers are entering the airside area of a terminal when they are required to pass through the security checkpoint. On approach to the security area, passengers and their possessions will be scrutinized in any number of ways including, but not limited to; presenting carry on luggage for searching or on a tray for loose items, which is then passed through the x-ray scanner via a conveyor belt.


In most instances, passengers are required to remove any/all electronic equipment and place it on the tray, along with other objects containing metal including belts, coins and electronic items.

Additionally, passengers may be required to pass through a walk-through metal detector or have metal detector wand waved in proximity to their body or enter a booth to be scanned. Passengers may also be randomly selected to undergo a swab test for illegal substances including, drugs or explosives. Passengers may also be subjected to a ‘pat-down’ search of their body to ensure prohibited items are excluded from the airside area of the terminal.

In some airports, a distinct escalation in security protocols airside of the terminal can be observed. The presence of police uniformed or covert and/or airport security officers are always present – for the most part passengers just don’t notice it. Some airports have armed military, or paramilitary forces posted throughout the terminal to scrutinize travelers and protect the infrastructure from threat.

Prohibited areas for the public within the airport include the apron, tarmac, ramp areas and back of house. These areas are generally referred to as (SIDA) Security Identification Display Areas.

The issuance of special credentials are required for those requiring entry to these areas which are protected by a number of security layers including access control and audible alert systems to notify of breaches to the area by authorized persons, and of course CCTV.


Non-passengers were once able to enter the concourse area to meet and greet, or to bid their fond farewells to family and friends at the gate. In most countries nowadays, this is now rare. Non-travelers are subjected to the same security protocols as travelers when entering airports.

Perimeter Security

Utilized by most domestic, regional and international airports there are several forms of perimeter security, including cyclone wire, taut wire and more recently fiber optic perimeter intrusion detection systems. Fiber optic perimeter solutions include real time notification of breaches to the perimeter allowing personnel to assess and track the threat and respond accordingly.

Sandra Hawkins

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