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.

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Jimmy Wales on December 28, 2009  · 

Martin, another interesting advantage of this is that it is social – it gets passengers talking to each other. I fly more than almost anyone, and I spend a lot of time in airports, and it’s a very dehumanized and anti-social environment which is only made worse by the (sadly necessary) security procedures that treat everyone as if they are criminals from the outset.

If done well, it could lead to a much more friendly experience.

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Martin Varsavsky on December 28, 2009  · 

Agreed Jimmy. Have you read Up in the Air? I am finishing it now. The best are the first 100 pages. The description of the world of air travel or Airworld and its fundamental sadness is exactly what you are referring to.

Juan Navidad on December 28, 2009  · 

I agree completely, Jimmy, in that people need tips or reasons to socialize. This year I have travelled twice to New York CIty and it is very common to hear people talk about how difficult it is to meet people in a big city like that.

Sometimes, people get advantage of the events which happen suddenly or occassionally. For instance, when the Euro came to Spain, it was very common to talk spontaneously about prices and conversions when we were doing shopping, with every man or woman we could meet.

Innovation has come to our everyday life in a lot of tools, but socialization is one of the poorest fields in new improvements… And that’s why I have always studied it and created cultural movements and groups to helps us get together.

Happy new year for everyone, 😛
Juan Navidad

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Andreu on December 29, 2009  · 

Maybe you are assuming that all passengers speak the same language, or what may be even worse, that not to speak english is reason enough to deserve a second screening (and whatever it takes). Actually is not only about knowing the language, is about beeing a good Sherlock Holmes. I make a living out of interviewing people, and I can tell you it is not as easy as it looks. Sure, a smart guy like you or your average reader can do it, but face it, the average Joe is not a reader of yours.

There are too many prejudices out there, and there is privacy too. Why should I explain to a complete stranger why do I wear thick beard, why did I go to Lybia last month, or whatever other question they can shoot me? What about the presumption of innocence?

Sorry Martin, but I’m not with you this time.

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George on December 29, 2009  · 

I have to agree with Andreu. If you give this kind of “power to the people” it’ll end up as a witch hunt hugely affected by prejudice: “Homo Homini Lupus” Also true that security personnel might also be affected by prejudice, but at least they don’t like anyone anyway 😀

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henrooo on December 30, 2009  · 

I think I have to agree with Andreu & George, I just think there are too many negative issues having passengers screen each other. I don’t think anyone can determine whether someone is a security risk or not. I mean, the professionals find it hard enough and they have training.

I understand that a 2nd passenger screening is new to a lot of people, but depending on your departure city, country and destination city, this practice has been standard since last years failed attack in London. The failed attack where the terrorists had liquid explosives.

We may sadly just have to get used to more delays.

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Haim Ac. on December 30, 2009  · 


I completely disagree with Mr. Wales (#1) and Mr. Navidad (#3). The issue here is security, not socializing. A good security officer should not be influenced by a nice face or a smile.

Regarding your proposal, I do not like it either.
I wouldn’t put mine or my family security in the hands of casual strangers, or people with no background nor experience in the security business. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that either.

In spite of several success stories, the entire coordinated world of aviation safety and official anti terror organizations (Europeans and Americans) failed with this Amsterdam-Detroit terrorist. New measures are in place now, and this is bugging everybody.

In my opinion, and in order to minimize risks, the most efficient way would be adding more check points, more personnel, more cameras, profiling, check everything and keep the guard high. We need to be ahead of the terrorists and think what could be their next step.

People need to understand that once you enter an airport, your privacy is at some risk because of the security measures, but it is done in order to minimize the risk of loosing yours and other people life. The general public must be educated on this too.

Happy new year.


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Arturo Mesa on December 30, 2009  · 

Martin, I follow your blog happily for many years, but please tell the school that taught you how to shoot photos to return you the money

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Mayel on January 1, 2010  · 

This makes me think of the

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David on January 1, 2010  · 

Another half baked idea. Leaving security to untrained amateurs. Or are you thinking a simple User Guide.pdf would be sufficient to make it work, just-like-that, in whatever language is appropriate? And who is going to QA this whole procedure? There are going to be more people “organising” this whole effort than the number of security personnel needed to do the job in the first place.

Three parties have a legal accountability. The airport, the airline, and the gvt institution(s) enforcing security/visa/customs.

Adding a fourth layer, the passenger, to substitute for one or more of the others, is rather naiive.

But it gives me a strange sense of pleasure to hear about the airport delays imposed on Martin Varsavsky. And that he realizes what living in the dark can mean (microblog): Fonera users have suffered this way since they purchased their equipment.

Stop reading books on your paid-for-holidays and romances. Start solving service problems that your customers are facing. You dont deserve a holiday until your customers are satisfied. That’s how it works around here anyway. Too much party, not enough hard work. I do hope there are NO salaries at the top, and bonuses are only paid on profits and customer satisfaction.

Martin, please reflect on every perception of bad experience/performance that you have in your life and think of how that experience is relevant to your business… and can be translated into “lessons learned”.

Perhaps that approach; a lessons-learned applicable to my business, would be a valuable postscriptum to each blog you write.

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Ari on January 3, 2010  · 

Martin – Let me start with two admissions. First, I had never read your blog before. Second, I was drawn into this article by the tit only to read something that has no, or at least very little, relevance to it.

This idea is BRILLIANT. Everything that you say is entirely correct. It is the type of idea that has you hitting your head and saying why didn’t I think of that. One thing that occurred to me is that these procedures could easily be superimposed over virtually every other form of transportation or vulnerability very quickly (train travel, bus stations, … theater, entrance to DisneyWorld).

By the way, I wholly disagree with points 1 and 3. This is about security which is a real problem in our society, and not about improving your social life. Moreover, I don’t know what these guys are speaking about – riding in an airplane and being in New York are already the two easiest ways on the planet to meet women.

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Stefan on January 4, 2010  · 

Nice idea but I think not good for security. Perhaps other application, and some non language based communication method. Americans think whole world english speakers. Try smile (french method) or frown (german method). Depends what you like!

For people looking for friend on airplane bus or train try talking. If people dont talk to you back, making you “Mr. Security” wont help neither. Or are you wanting to pat down the ladies (or gentlemen?!). Try Tuttuki Bako Finger Game Box if you are lonely on the plane.

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Mayel on January 4, 2010  · 

This was Bruce Schneier’s ( reaction when I pointed him to this article :
“When you put amateurs in charge of security, you get amateur security.”

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HenryChurchill on January 15, 2010  · 

“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.”


BTW… I agree.

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