Yesterday, Nina and I went from Saint Martin to Miami. As a result of the foiled terrorist attack we were subject to two screenings. One was the already extensive screening that US airports do, shoes off and all. But after that, we went through another painful passenger by passenger screening that resulted in a 90 minute flight delay. Every passenger was searched an average of two minutes by two security people divided into male and female passengers. This included intense searches of passengers in wheel chairs and people of all ages, included very elderly passengers.

As I observed this process, I could not stop thinking that there must be a better and faster way of dealing with periods of high alert like the one we are going through now right in the middle of the holiday season. So this what came to mind.

I would leave the first screening as it is but I would change the second screening. Before you go on reading, please remember that until yesterday I had never encountered a second screening. If there is going to be a 90 minute long second screening process, here is a better alternative. It is what I call P2P passenger to passenger airline screening.

The plan would be that in the waiting area, before boarding, with all passengers there, airline personnel organize 20 groups of 10 passengers each. It is important that the assignment be done randomly by airline employees. One way would be to use seat assignments. After the groups are formed, two leaders would be chosen in each group based on the passengers with the most miles. Then in each group passengers would introduce each other and leaders would ask whatever questions they find reasonable in order to conclude if the members of her/his group are safe to fly with. If they see anything out of the ordinary they would refer the passenger to security for further questioning.

Why P2P?

-passengers have skin in the game. Security personnel stays on the ground.

-it is much faster. 2 people screen 200 passengers for 2 minutes each in 200 minutes. This process should not take more than 15 minutes, possibly 5.

– this is on top of current security, it is one more layer of security.

-many terrorist attacks are stopped by fellow passengers.

-with all respect to the privately hired security forces that screen passengers around airports, it is likely that the average well traveled passenger is smarter than the average newly hired private security employee.

-as opposed to Israeli screening methods which are considered best in the world and involve extensive, random interviewing, current security does not involve conversations. It is through conversation and normal human interaction that a person who is about to blow up a plane, with whatever method, may be discovered.

The P2P screening idea is one of those projects like Wikipedia, that believes that collective intelligence is greater than individual intelligence. Two experienced travelers leading a group of 10 other travelers in a 10 minute session can uncover anomalies that were not picked up during screening oriented towards finding explosives that are so hard to track. And in any case, this is an idea that deserves much further thinking and redesign before trialing it. One good group to ask to would be imprisoned terrorists. The question would be simple. If you had to go through physical searches alone or to both physical searches and questioning by an experienced airline traveler what would you worry about more? I tend to think that terrorists, like anyone, would fear the unpredictability of the P2P system.

To end the post with a positive note, this 90 minute delay was nothing compared to the amazing time we had during our honeymoon.

Here are some pictures.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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