After Paris, it’s Brussels this time, the headquarters of NATO and the de-facto headquarters of the European Union. Brussels was hit by synchronized bomb attacks, responsibility of which was claimed 8 hours later by ISIS. Their official statement was something to the tune of ‘Nobody is safe, not here.’
While we can continue to contemplate whether or not this is a direct result of the Europeans being slack on immigration norms and refugee influx, let’s keep this article limited to a quick analysis of where we are from an airport security standpoint.
Brussels is particularly important, from an Indian blogger’s standpoint, since the city is one of Jet Airways’ major hubs (and their first international hub). The attack that has already claimed over 30 lives (34 as of a few minutes ago), has injured many more, including 2 Jet Airways staff members based in Brussels.
The explosion occurred close to a set of check-in counters way before one is checked by airport security post check-in. Which brings us to a rather basic question.
Was an attack like the one at Brussels Airport avoidable?
The issue here is the availability of unrestricted access to European airports (and largely airports in the west) right up to the check-in counters, even if one is NOT a passenger. This is the way things are in most western countries and it needs to change YESTERDAY. In the early 90s, some western airports were known to security scan passengers / guests entering airports right at the entrance whether they were actually traveling or not. This was indeed a safe practice however it has been entirely done away with, probably to avoid passenger bottle necking at the entrances.
A former head of security of London’s Heathrow airport is on record for having said,
(not a verbatim transcript)
“Some airports screen passengers before they are allowed in the building. This could potentially lead to queues outside the airport. Wherever you have got a large volume of people it is very difficult to protect them, intelligence is the key, we need better information.”
Having said that, airports in the East, including all airports in India have been screening passengers since time immemorial. If you aren’t a passenger, security personnel at the entrance of the airport do not let you in.
I’m not advocating this solves the problem, not in the least! But it brings down the airport’s headaches by quite a large number. Furthermore, one cannot underestimate the psychological effect on a potential miscreant when he sees armed security personnel at the airport entrance checking if you are indeed a passenger or not. It does have plausible deterrence value.
While treating everything from the airport entrance to post-checkin like a recreational mall, where families can sit down, grab a cup of coffee and say their ever so elongated goodbyes before a flight seems like a fun idea, the truth is, in today’s world, we cannot afford that luxury. An airport is and always has been a very security sensitive state of affairs. The bottom line is, the sooner European airports limit access the better.