Yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of industry and political leaders performing a ‘pas de deux’, expressing moral outrage at the state of airport security. We were told that the very nature of airport security was incoherent, inconsistent and ineffective! The result of this flash in the pan debate was to hear the new Transport Minister (Philip Hammond MP) state that he would, “be allowing airlines to look at ways of "easing the passenger experience".
This is the same Minister who put his stamp on the proposed changes to the Regulatory role of the Civil Aviation Authority. He decided that the emphasis should be placed on investment for the passenger at UK airports and that the formation of a new Consumer group, Passenger Focus, would not go ahead, he stated;
“The Government believes....important to have strong passenger representation.......not the time to be make additional structural changes which will add to the regulatory burden on industry....will......be exploring options for strengthening existing passenger representation....”
Well we attended the meeting to discuss these ‘structural changes’ at the Department for Transport in January 2010 and I can assure you, that the formation of Passenger Focus would at best have produced a very light touch regulation and not the ogre that government or the airlines would have you believe!
Do you see the trend here? Industry first; Consumer possibly second! The discussion on passenger safety gives a hint of coordination; an industry crying out for changes to the security protocols and government sympathetically agreeing that change is needed. If it is decided to allow airlines free-range in determining security issues, will this lead to shorter times in queues and an increase in operating schedules? Call me a cynic if you want, but I don’t hear the Consumers who contact us complaining about having to take their shoes off or debating when a laptop is really a laptop!
In 2008 we wrote the first article commenting on the operation of the then relatively new security measures. We highlighted the contradictions within the security process and questioned whether passengers were really safer?
I know that if I am travelling by air, I want to feel confident that I am travelling on an aircraft that has not only been subject to good security processes, but also that the passengers I am flying with have been subject to a good and valuable scrutiny! The issue here is about dealing with the contradictions and ensuring that the maximum effort is being made to protect the viability of that flight and anticipate the cunning of any alleged terrorist grouping.
So Minister, before you rush off to create the conditions that will allow airlines to decide our destiny, why don’t you give a moment’s thought to the very Consumers of the flight product; time I think for you to start work on strengthening that passenger representation you spoke about. Ask them if they feel safer, ask them what matters, and ask them how the security experience can be improved?
Better still, why don't you talk to the families of those passengers who have perished on aircraft destroyed by terrorist actions and ask them what they think?
Now is the time to strengthen air passenger safety rights and not allow them to be lost in the fog of deregulation!