“We can’t continue as we have been doing for the past ten years,” says Johnnie Müller, Copenhagen Airport’s (CPH’s) security director. With approximately 27 million passengers passing through its terminals every year – that’s over 72,000 every day – keeping the airport’s security systems optimised is no mean feat.

“We must start to be more specific in how exactly security issues should be solved,” Müller says. “Of course, this has been increasingly tough because the potential terror threats have increased but, at the same time, we have managed to rethink what we’re doing.”

In the wake of the Brussels Airport bombings earlier this year, airport regulations and passenger security have come under scrutiny throughout Europe, underlining the necessity for effective security in every area of the airport, landside and airside.

The importance of new technology in updating airport security is evident in initiatives such as the Smart Security programme, a collaborative effort between IATA and the Airports Council International (ACI), which has plans that run through to 2020 to reduce passenger waiting times while maintaining high levels of security. The airport made the decision in 2015 to optimise the security process by implementing security scanning for passengers.

“This means we now have a higher level of security but, for the passenger, it is still a convenient experience,” says Müller. “For them, there’s a big difference between a security scanner and having a manual pat-down – and that’s the thinking behind the future: that we can increase security and, at the same time, give the passenger a more pleasant journey.”

Higher, not stricter

It’s a reasonable assumption to make that, as technology becomes more advanced and criminals become more creative, airport security will only become tighter. For Müller, increasing passenger protection is not about how ‘strict’ procedures are, but about staying up to date and making sure procedures are always relevant.

“I do honestly believe that the level of security will continuously heighten for many years to come,” confesses Müller. “We’re not in the status quo, but a higher level of security doesn’t necessarily mean tighter or more inconvenient processes – they are not the same thing. Security could easily reach a heightened level but, if so, we should then expect that the passenger would actually have an easier experience of moving through the airport.”

Copenhagen Airport has dedicated feedback groups with airlines, handlers and business partners, as well as with specific passenger groups, with which they hold a close dialogue. Whenever a new procedure is put in place, immediate feedback can be obtained and the process adjusted accordingly. Keeping passengers up to date with new security regulations requires clear and regular communication that will not overwhelm or inconvenience them.

“We spend a lot of energy on communicating and explaining,” says Müller. “Each year here in Copenhagen, we have around 100,000 interviews with passengers where we get that direct input and feedback on different areas – new procedures, waiting times, do they feel safe and secure, things like that. We spend time on communicating and following up, then implementing change.”

One of the core matters the industry has been talking about regarding European aviation security is the fact that there are layers upon layers of competing legislation; rethinking them collectively could greatly benefit airports. CPH is already beginning to test out improvements to optimise current security procedures, and dedicating time to media and interviews to outline what the impact of this will be.

“I don’t like the term ‘tighten security’ because you don’t necessarily have to make it tighter or put in yet another new process – that’s not what it’s about,” says Müller. “It’s about addressing the potential risk at the right level.”

Change in the air

Getting a handle on the concept that the airport knows what’s best for you without removing all independence from passengers is a delicate balance to convey. Copenhagen Airport has seen quite a lot of changes in processes over the past ten years, such as its self-service bag drop, implemented in 2013. The airport’s own surveys show that passengers who use self-service are generally more satisfied, and that 77% of all passengers use self check-in via screen, mobile phone or internet, so it is unsurprising that Müller strongly believes that passengers are willing and able to adjust.

“Change can, of course, be difficult, but they accept it,” explains Müller. “People have long understood why we have security measures – now it’s more important to have a dialogue around reminding them what the current procedures are. So if they’re frustrated, it’s not necessarily with us – they’re feeling irritated with themselves because they’ve forgotten what the rules are.”

We’re not there to be difficult; we are there to help people get from A to B quickly, easily and, hopefully, with a smile on their face. That’s truly how we work.

Are travellers ever resistant to change and is their criticism more likely to be negative due to the recent terror scares? Copenhagen Airport believes passenger frustrations should always be carefully taken into account – the task is to facilitate security in a service and process-oriented fashion so that passengers are never hassled, while maintaining effective and optimised procedures. The airport invests a lot of time in service concepts and training in order to keep passengers safe, secure and happy.

“We’re not there to be difficult; we are there to help people get from A to B quickly, easily, securely and, hopefully, with a smile on their face,” explains Müller. “That’s truly how we work. We honestly believe in this process. Security, in itself, is not necessarily a positive experience, but it’s all about how you do it – how you interact and communicate, how you help the passenger.”

People first

Striking a balance between appearing as a communicative, social brand, and updating passengers with new and serious security legislation is a worthwhile effort for airports. With over 113,000 followers across all its social media platforms, Copenhagen Airport has a strong audience in its passengers and potential visitors.

However, although the airport itself can quickly and clearly deliver updates on security procedures, media reports can often provoke scaremongering or scepticism – especially in the aftermath of a well-publicised security breach. Müller says he has not found this to be the case in Copenhagen, though he accepts there will always be a media presence searching for chinks in the armour.

“Generally speaking, I don’t think the media is talking negatively about security procedures,” says Müller. “It’s more from an angle of ‘How or why are there so many layers of protocol?’ and ‘Why don’t we rethink the whole thing?’ – and in that area, we, as airports, agree. Of course we should rethink processes – we shouldn’t just put in new legislation.”

The intersection between staff operations and security technology is one that continues to change but is not showing signs of disappearing. Technology facilitates so many aspects of airport strategies now, from a new kind of ticket machine to an app that sends updates to waiting passengers. For Copenhagen Airport, there are no technological solutions that aren’t symbiotic with human engagement.

“There are multiple ways of increasing the awareness of staff and of everyone working in the airport,” says Müller. “It’s all about risk assessment and then awareness training. Yes, technology will continue to be an increasingly prominent aspect of airport security, but there will always be a strong emphasis on people. The human aspect is central to how you actually ensure a process is pleasant and also secure.”  