Boston’s Logan Airport will become the first in the nation to roll out an Israeli-style (hummus, cucumber, tomato) security system in mid-August as part of the Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program. This new plan, which focuses on having TSA agents speak directly to passengers to determine whether they’re acting suspiciously, is a $1 billion program aimed at behavioral analysis rather than stopping you from bringing water on your flight and frisking 3 year olds.
Israel has famously used these techniques in its airports, training its security officers in ways to detect whether someone is lying to you. Rolling this out in the US domestic flight environment is a wee-bit different, and the pilot program in Boston will help determine how much this slows down the security process. And really, that is the entire issue about travel security in the US: if we had infinite time, we could thoroughly screen everyone on every means of public transportation. But we don’t. So we’re still trying to figure out how much time people will put up with to ensure a higher level of security. In Israel, with its 99.8% international flight schedule, people will put up with getting to the airport 3 hours early. In the US, especially on domestic flights, the flying public seems to have gone from allowing themselves to get to the airport 20 minutes early (as I did at smaller airports pre-9/11, to saying that perhaps 90 minutes is OK). That’s a big change. Train passengers, on the other hand, have basically said that they’re not willing to put up with any security to slow their trip.
Behavioral-based screening is superior to patting down little children, clearly. It will be interesting to see how much it impacts the airport passenger experience, and how much customers will push back should it add a few minutes onto their travel schedule.