British Airways chairman: "stop kowtowing to US aviation security demands"

Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, has called on Britain's aviation industry to stop "kowtowing" to the USA's ridiculous and inconsistent aviation "security" procedures. Broughton points out that carriers flying to the US from Britain are forced to subject their passengers to inconvenient and expensive checks that internal US flights often omit. Meanwhile, Colin Matthews, the head of BAA, has called for scrapping all security procedures and starting over with "a clean sheet of paper."
He suggested the practice of forcing passengers on US-bound flights to take off their shoes and to have their laptops checked separately in security lines should be dropped, during a conference of UK airport operators in London.

There was no need to "kowtow to the Americans every time they wanted something done", said Broughton. "America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do. We shouldn't stand for that. We should say 'we'll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential'."

UK should not put up with US airport security - BA chairman

(Image: Airport security. Get ready to de-shoe, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from redjar's photostream)


  1. He makes a good point. US Security Theater has become such an amazing show that I go through checkpoints wit ha bag of popcorn and a box of Jr. Mints.

    However all that would happen is the US would refuse to let those planes land or disembark, the passengers would complain, and soon enough they’d be back in place.

    1. You’re probably correct about the USA’s reaction, Zadaz, but I also doubt that the UK is the only country whose airlines feel this way. If a big enough coalition (say the entire EU, or the G8 nations excluding the US) finally put their foot down, it would lead to a rather interesting game of chicken. I’m not sure the US can afford to alienate that much of the world at this point.

    2. If other countries refused US security measures then squat would happen. You’re officially in the country you left until you leave an airport and the US already makes you go through all their security procedures before you board any connecting flight i.e. you land in L.A with a connecting flight to NYC you land, collect your luggage, go through the entire security screening process then fly to NYC.

      That doesn’t really happen anywhere else (that I’ve travelled to), even if you land in a say Singapore and don’t leave the airport you don’t go through all of the security process again before making your connecting flight, and it is only because the US doesn’t trust other countries to follow security measures that it does happen.

  2. We tried asking impertinent questions about 9-11.

    (Now anybody who does that is “crazy.”)

    We tried singing along with the choir.

    Fine, fine, whatever, we don’t care what really happened any more.

    Now when will all this bullshit go back to normal?!

    1. Anon wrote: “Now when will all this bullshit go back to normal?!”

      Sorry, Anon. This is the new ‘normal’. Stuff like this doesn’t get rolled back.

  3. I have been through a number of airport security checkpoints in the US in the last year and every one has required that I remove my shoes and separate my laptop from my bag. The backscatter x-ray machines are the only bits about TSA security that irk me. No privacy there. I’ve opted out each time I am presented with one. Thankfully that is still an option.

  4. I wish the US would stop kowtowing to US security demands. But until that happens, I hope that other countries will lead the way towards sanity.

    I also hope that there will be an uprising against the xray backscatter scanners.

    If terrorists want to take out an airplane, no matter how wonderful our security is, they will probably be able to compromise based on human factors (ie, get one of their own hired as a TSA screener), or bypass security entirely and use a missile.

    Our whole security system is a deadly combination of makework for the TSA, and obedience training / ritual humiliation for us.

    (I fly a lot.)

  5. i agree with all of his expressed sentiments, but i sincerely hope he is not planning to transit a TSA checkpoint in the near future.

  6. It depends which lobby manages to sway the US government in the light of this sort of announcement-cum-feedback: Big Tourism or Big Security.

  7. I for one would be happy if we could return to pre 9/11 security. Do we really need to go through body scanners, shoe removal, bag unpacking, having things like nail clippers and bottles of water confiscated etc…

    I mean just look at the odds as reported here: I doubt they have changed significantly since then; and if anything the chance of being on a terror victim on a flight has lessened due to the sheer volume flights versus the extremely isolated incidents of terrorism.

  8. Please take every opportunity to opt-out of the “naked body scanners”. These have unknown health risks and, while it was promised that no storage of the acquired images is possible, this has turned out to be untrue. Avoid.

  9. Sssh, don’t tell them that the UK isn’t a US state. We have them now, there’s no sense in bursting the illusion.

  10. Good god – I actually find myself agreeing with something said by a senior member of BA staff. Thank god Willie Walsh didn’t say this – I think I’d throw up in my mouth a little.

  11. Until very recently I had to remove my shoes and belt before stepping into the metal detector and had my laptop x-rayed separately… every single time I took a flight from Manchester (UK) to Belfast and vice versa.

    I still feel nervous every time I walk through the metal detector with my shoes on. Don’t ask how nervous I was when I was called out of line and had a little swab run over my laptop to test for explosives.

    Terrorism? We’re doing it for them.

  12. Are these policies hurting sales? Are the increased security checks costing money to BA – perhaps the increased staffing levels needed are expensive?

    A simple solution would be for Americans to pay for it. I recently travelled by Eurostar, and when you enter Eurostar’s Belgian depot, you are greeted by UK border agency staff. Well, if the USA wants USA standards, the simple solution would be to have American staff manning security booths.

    1. “Well, if the USA wants USA standards, the simple solution would be to have American staff manning security booths.”

      Ummm, no thanks. They can operate the way they want on their own territory. I had a bad experience getting a US visa for my girlfriend some time ago. Well okay its their country but I wouldn’t want to see that behaviour extended beyond their sphere of operations.

      1. Michael: as it happens the last time I entered the USA (about two weeks ago) I did my immigration in Calgary, where there is a US pre-clearance channel. The cheapest flight to Seattle when I booked was with Air Canada via there, and I have to say that the process was noticeably less confrontational than some of my previous experiences going direct into the US. I’ve heard similar stories about the pre-clearance system operating in Dublin, so perhaps US immigration and security staff get a little less, well, intense once you take them out of their domestic environment.

        1. Simon: we got unlucky. My GF was on a Malaysian passport. We had crashed her car the week before. She was renting her house. She worked as a contractor (medical doctor). It set off all the immigration alarms then the official we talked to was the worst troll ever. Goading her to get angry from behind ballistic resistant glass. It was all so I could visit friends in NYC and not worth the trouble really, but you don’t want to leave a visa application hanging half way. Its going to look bad in the future.

          I would like to go back once more to see the museums. That would be great.

  13. The last time I flew to the UK, the security fees were more than the flight itself. And I’m sure that not all of the so-called security fees are going to the poor blokes poking around in the suitcases. Heathrow 5 is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It’s huge. But then they just drove us to the plane with a bus. They could have built a low slung one story building and be done with it.

  14. Just for laughs. since I know I’m not the only one thinking it: If you don’t wish to come here, then don’t.

    1. Yeah. You can’t come in our sandbox. We’ve got the Land of the Free over here, and if you don’t like bending over and giving up your freedoms to come in, or letting us take your freedoms while you’re hear, then screw you.

      In fact, if you even talk about how you are being forced to give up your freedoms in the Land of the Free, we’ll tell you to get out. Because that’s how free we are, motherf_cker.

      We’re going to be so free behind our walls that it’s just awesome to think about. The bigger we build them, the freer we’ll be, and the more we’ll show the rest of the world what freedom looks like. Amerika, f— yeah.

        1. Thanks. It’s funny, after I wrote that I was remembering what *I* thought America was about growing up:

          We were supposed to be better than the East Germans, because we weren’t searched when we crossed the border, and because we didn’t have to carry our papers around with us.

          We were supposed to be better than the Russians, because we didn’t have to fear our own state, to watch what we say for fear of persecution and arrest.

          We were supposed to be better than the Chinese, because we didn’t torture people or burn books or ban art.

          We were supposed to be better than the religious fundamentalists, because we didn’t put one religion over the others, and because we believed in reason over ancient mythology.

          We were supposed to be the country that thrived on immigration, because we knew that immigrants brought their energy and culture to all of us. I guess that was only when the immigrants were white.

          We weren’t supposed to be imperialists like the Spanish, the English, the French, the Dutch, and the Portuguese. We weren’t supposed to be the country that killed other people to “help them” change their government to one that was friendly to ours.

          Now I realize that all of the above was, to some extent, a myth. I realize that viewing ourselves as “better than” other countries is part of the problem. At this point, it seems that people still assume we’re “better than” without remembering the reasons why we’re supposed to be better – while we are, in fact, becoming the opposite of what we held up as an ideal.

          What is most sad to me are the people who tell us to “get out” of America because we still value the ideals that made this country what it is. I think the country is passing that point that states go through, where they become overwhelmed by their own history. I think we’re developing a form of capitalism that will be looked at as a form of barbarism, just as we look at feudalism today. And there we will lock ourselves up in our great castle and tell ourselves that we’re much better than the folks on the other hill. I just hope the damage we do out of fear – to the rest of the world and to ourselves – is minimal.

          Anyway, cheers.

          1. Sir I salute your wit, and wholeheartedly agree. I find it sad to think that those sentiments will soon be enough to put you on a ‘watchlist’.

          2. Imag, that’s a very moving, poignant post. I thought your first one was good, but this one’s great. It’s just so, so refreshing to hear something these days from a thoughtful, self-aware American. The media domination in your country by noisy, unpleasant sociopaths gets really depressing – maybe John Stewart’s upcoming rally will do something to tip the balance back again, but I somehow doubt it. Good luck to you.

          3. *slow clap* That brought a tear to my eye. . . Both in terms of weeping for the loss of what could have been, no matter how ideal, and the fact that we’re probably not turning back.

            Thank you.

    2. Just for laughs. This has been going on for some time. Many business meetings and events have been re-scheduled to different countries, and so far it seems to have done wonders for the US economy.

  15. Ugh. My wife and I have to visit the US in the New Year to introduce our new son to my grandmother, who can’t travel anymore.

    I’ve been avoiding non-essential travel to the US because of their ridiculous security demands; this will be the first time I’ve taken a pleasure trip to the US since pre-9-11. Not happy about it. Also, not looking forward to taking a breastfed baby on a US plane, I’ve heard stories about that too.

    Wish my grandma didn’t choose to live in a police state. At least she hasn’t been brainwashed by these tea bag maniacs. Yet.

  16. Freedom is only a distant memory to me now. Rereading “1984” was more interesting than I thought it would be.

  17. Regarding the “new normal”…

    Lyrics from Bruce Cockburn’s album “The Trouble With Normal”, True North Records, 1983

    Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
    Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
    Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
    What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
    Person in the street shrugs — “Security comes first”
    But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

    Don’t you just hate it when songwriters get it right?


  18. I’ve got news for you. American passengers are getting sick of kowtowing to US aviation security demands as well.

    US Aviation security expert Bruce Schneier has written that the only two things have made aviation safer since 9/11 – reinforced cockpit doors and the fact that passengers now know to resist hijackers.

    My own modest proposal in that regard is to allow open carry of firearms on aircraft. A half dozen or so properly vetted citizens on each flight with handguns at belt would do more to discourage any hijack attempt more than anything the US’s TSA can.

    1. I’m in total agreement up until your modest proposal. The problem with “open carry” on planes or especially on university campuses (that one really disturbs me) is that in the likely chaos of the moment, the people with guns are going see each other, think, “My god, he’s got a gun!” and shoot each other. Bad idea.

      1. YakHerder, no, sir – the point would be that there would be no “chaos of the moment” – the moment would not occur.

        Imagine that you are a potential hijacker. If you know for a fact that there are likely to be a half-dozen armed citizens on the aircraft you intend to divert, are you really going to select that as a potential target?

        Many small U.S. towns have enacted mandatory gun ownership laws. I know of one in South Texas which became fed up with cross-border crime. The biggest crime this particular town has to manage now is graffiti.

        Strangefriend, you shouldn’t believe everything you see in movies. A bullet can not explosively decompress an airline cabin. They’re engineered not to come apart if holed.

        Not that I have any illusion that the TSA will ever allow open carry, merely as a thought experiment I find the prospect of armed passengers far more appealing than the irrational indignities to which the TSA subjects passengers.

        Not a week goes by where some idiot TSA screener doesn’t commit some indignity or “rule book” procedure in defiance of all common sense.

    2. Haven’t you seen the end of GOLDFINGER? Where he shoots out a window & then is sucked out of the plane?

      1. Yeah, great classic movie.

        I’ve also seen Mythbusters where they tested and busted this myth.

        Still, as a gun owner myself, I’m not crazy about letting people carry guns on planes. The space is too confined, and if things get chaotic and bullets start flying it’s likely to end badly for everyone.

        Stun gun, taser, pepper spray, that sort of thing is likely a better tool for the job.

        1. How much worse could it get than 3000+ people dead? Flights haven’t been diverted to Cuba by a lone hijacker with a gun in years, taking away guns didn’t stop the practice. Other countries refusing to accommodate the hijackers did. Putting Air Marshals on less than 2% of flights is useless and the FAA making aircrew jump through hoops at their own expense and setting them up for problems by requiring defective equipment in the name of safety borders on criminal. Look into the armed pilots program if you want to see the government’s effectiveness in action.

    3. I actually kind of doubt that Bruce would support your “open carry” plan. Statistically hijackings have gone way down in the decades since they started screening for weapons on planes. (I’m talking about the common-sense provisions against guns and bombs, not the “OMG he might have a weapon of mass destructing in his sneakers” level of screening.)

  19. This is especially ridiculous when one compares it to the USA border with Mexico across which huge amounts of drugs and weapons are carried without the smugglers removing their shoes.

    Perhaps something similar to the retaliatory visa is needed. Other countries should require passengers USA carriers to affix tax stamps to their foreheads or perhaps require their toenails and fingernails to be trimmed to eliminate sharp edges and points.

  20. harriswillys, I sure hope you’re trolling. The last thing I want on my airplane are a bunch of untrained and armed yahoos. Shooting holes in the plane is a Very Bad Idea. Structural integrity at 30,000 feet is pretty damned important to the safety of the plane. As a gun owner myself, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let armed folks on airplanes, it’s just asking for trouble. You want to stop potential terrorists on board? When they ignite their clothing or something equally crazy, you jump on them and hold ’em down until the plane lands.

    1. No sir, I am not trolling, although I think the likelihood of open carry on aircraft is about nil.

      If it ever happened, keep in mind that these would not be “armed yahoos,” people who open carry today in the areas in which it is allowed are responsible members of their communities.

      The point being prevention. No idiot underwear bomber is going to get on a plane if he knows that there are law abiding citizens prepared to shoot his ass if he tries anything funny.

      If – worst case – someone fires a bullet through the hull, structural integrity at 30,000 feet isn’t an issue. Aircraft are designed for this, put a hole in the fuselage and nothing happens except the air leaks out through the hole. Problematic but not disastrous.

  21. I find the removal of small sharp objects from my carry-on the dumbest of the dumb. They could allow 6″ blades on board and still no one would successfully hijack and airliner again. The ability to do so ended less than two hours after the first plane flew into the first tower on 9/11. UA Flight 93 (the one in PA on 9/11) is the proof that hijacking a plane with pointy objects is a thing of the past. At best you might severely injure a couple people before 4 guys who were just itching to prove their patriotism got ahold of you.

  22. Point of note for Americans: in the UK, if you’re selected for scanning via backscatter X-ray, you don’t get to opt for a pat-down instead. Either you let them ogle you, or you don’t fly.

    Moreover, these bloody stupid TSA-instituted extra-paranoid searches are applied to all UK flights, not just ones to the USA (where *extra* crazy search regs are applied, so that you get not one, but two security checks).

    Bruce may be wrong about the cockpit door reinforcement saving lives, though. Go look for Helios Flight 522. I make that 121 dead — BECAUSE of a reinforced cockpit door that stopped cabin crew from getting oxygen to the pilots in time to save the flight.

  23. I think the whole security process required to get into an airport is foolish show. What I don’t get is what Mr. Broughton thinks is not being done within the US. He says “America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do.” The rest of the quote mentions two bits of theatrics that passengers must participate in:

    1) take off their shoes
    2) have their laptops checked separately

    These are both done on every US domestic commercial flight.

  24. Nicely put imag.

    And yes, everyone under all circumstances needs to refuse the pr0n machine and request a pat down. When they have to hire twice the staff to deal with the increased workload they won’t think security is so fun. Also hopefully people TSA will eat shit for blowing millions on BS machines that dont get used.

  25. As an American I fully support this stance. My impression of most airport security is that most of it is a show to make people feel safe, without actually making anyone safer. I think it’s actually counterproductive, in that “special rules for the US” make us look scared and are probably encouraging to terrorists, not to mention being massively inconvenient and expensive.

    Oddly enough, when I was in Israel, I experienced none of this show. When boarding a plane in Tel Aviv, I was interviewed by an officer and sent on my way. They couldn’t have cared less if I had a bottle of water. Nobody has ever accused Israel of not taking security seriously, so maybe we need to swallow our pride and see if we can’t figure out what works (and implement it) and what just serves to make us look scared and stupid. Guess which of those “confiscating nail clippers from pilots” falls under?

  26. Harris – I’m not a gun nut, but I would gladly fly “no security airlines”. Bring your guns. Even if terrorists did blow up a few planes per year, flying would still be hundreds of times safer than driving. If people really want to make themselves safer, they should take a driving course.

    We have totally lost our minds on this one. I’m sick of bowing down to fear of absurdly unlikely events. What happened to “home of the brave”?

    The main reason to worry about airplanes is the use of them as a missile, the threat which is now effectively over. If we’re worried about random bombs, there’s nothing really special about putting them on airplanes. After all, we walk around the rest of the world and it’s – gasp – UNSECURED! I shudder to think about what will happen if terrorists leave bombs on the sidewalk. Will we have to go through screening when we leave our houses in the morning?

    And thanks all for the nice comments :)

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