Airport Security/Safety: The Second Line of Defense

Aug. 8, 2002
Prior to September 11, 2001 many Americans had an attitude of complacency toward the every day things they all took for granted, especially air travel. In this second in a series of articles, author Michael D. Crucefix discusses passenger and crew security.

As in airport security/safety, the primary concern for airline employees, in this case the flight crew/gate crew, is the protection of the passengers and the crew. Obviously the asset (plane) is of a high concern but other controls such as preventative maintenance, regulatory inspections and insurance inspections cover the vast majority of physical concerns involving equipment and instrumentation, so this aspect of security/safety has no need to be covered.

However, any security/safety activity that occurs from the boarding gate until the plane lands at its destination should involve the airline gate and flight crew.

It is important that airplanes disembark and land without incident. This can be achieved building on the controls placed into effect by the first line of defense, the airport security/safety process. One can be content that if airport security/safety has been managed well the actual flying part of the trip should have a vastly reduced possibility of a negative occurrence happening. The following suggestions should be helpful in moving the second step - flight security - along.

  • Gate attendants continue selective and thorough inspection of the passenger and carry on baggage.
  • The pilot, with the cockpit door locked behind him/her, greets the passengers eyeball to eyeball for as long as possible. This provides the pilot an opportunity to observe passengers and for the passengers to see the pilot as assertive, professional, courteous, concerned and observant.
  • At the time of writing this article the majority of aircraft cabin doors have been reinforced, but I recommend one more step be taken: add a light that signals to all passengers and outside cockpit flight crew that the door is locked. Passengers cannot confirm in their minds that the door is locked without a designator, they can only assume it is based on the present locked door in flight standard. The light will add peace of mind to passengers that all is well in the cockpit. As a caveat, the following article appeared in USA TODAY Dec. 10, 2001: A passenger, Robert L. Ross, San Clemente, Calif., wrote an article titled, "FAA's Record Brings Outrage." Ross writes:
    • "On November 10, 2001 I flew to Juneau, Alaska on Alaska Airlines. The round trip from Orange County, Calif., required four segments. On two of these segments, the flight attendants opened the re-enforced cockpit door for 11 minutes and eight minutes respectively. On both occasions the flight attendants stood in the doorway facing the pilots and didn't pay any attention to the cabin.

      Any passenger would have had no problem pushing his or her way into the cockpit, making the re-enforced door a waste of money and effort. The Cabin Door Locked standard must be enforced at all times.

  • Flight attendants must ensure only passengers that can understand English, follow instructions, are of proper age, are physically fit and able to lift off the emergency door are seated in an emergency row. I have observed many passengers sitting in exit rows who do not fit those criteria. It is impossible for flight attendants to make that judgment if they do not converse with each and every exit row passenger. Part of the responsibility of the flight attendant is to make that assessment and change off passengers who do not meet the criteria. A general announcement does not meet the criteria.
  • All flight crews should be extensively trained in observation and memory. This skill is invaluable in identifying problems or issues in advance and remembering incidents at a later time.
  • If a serious incident like September 11 takes place again while in flight, all air phones should be activated so passengers can use them free of charge and on direct dial. They can call authorities, their homes or anywhere they deem appropriate.
  • Management performance standards need to be written, introduced and followed. (The standards would simply answer the questions who does what, when)
  • A single red/green go/no-go line should be placed on the floor (carpet) of the aircraft just prior to the cockpit. Depending on the configuration of the plane it might be a straight line or an angled line because lavatories need to be accessed by the passengers. But no matter what the plane configuration, no passenger can cross the red line for any reason while the plane is in flight.
  • Although the decision to make all cockpit doors bullet-proof has already been made, it is also important to expand the ballistic capability to the cockpit bulkhead because on some aircraft one of the lavatory walls is part of the cockpit bulkhead. If someone was able to get onboard with a gun they could enter the lavatory and shoot the weapon through the bulkhead and still hit the pilot or co-pilot.
  • Remove all bulkhead plastic advertising holders. They could be used as a weapon if broken or become hazards to passengers seated in front of one during any in-flight turbulence or scuffle.
  • Recently a passenger stormed the cockpit and was subdued by other passengers. They completed the remainder of the flight by siting on the passenger until he was turned over to authorities. It is suggested that the flight crew have on hand electrical wire-ties looped together like a figure 8 so they could be used, if needed, as hand and foot restraints for unruly passengers.
  • Video recorders should be installed in the main cabin. The cabin activity should be recorded as soon as the plane starts its boarding process and should not conclude until the plane has landed. Tapes should be retained for at least 30 days. The captain should be the responsible person for ensuring the commencement of the taping is part of the checklist duties.
  • All curtains in the plane should be kept open at all times. Presently passengers feel more comfortable if they have a complete line of sight to the cockpit. Resistance from first class passengers that without the curtains being closed prevents them for sleeping or concentrating is not an excuse that is acceptable. Total passenger stability and calm is the ultimate goal.
  • On one recent flight I saw an icon on a storage bin that had the resemblance of a gas mask. I asked the flight attendant what it was and she confirmed it was the storage location for a smoke mask for flight attendants. The vision in my head after being provided that explanation was a multitude of passengers fighting and clawing for that one or two smoke masks if ever needed. If smoke masks are required, why not store them in a place that does not advertise their location to passengers? We just don't need to know where they are stored.

These are just a few observations and suggestions I have been thinking about since September 11. The majority are simple to introduce with little or no cost. Some will have a price tag attached to them and are probably on the to-do list of airline organizations and regulators but I have no knowledge of that at this present time.

Airplane security/safety should be considered the second line of defense after airport security/safety. I believe the vast majority of flight and ground crews perform their duties and responsibilities appropriately, however, we have all observed some deviations from the accepted norm. This is where we all need to be vigilant for the purpose of nothing more than security and safety of everyone.

About the author: About the author: Michael D. Crucefix is a principal consultant with DNV Training Solutions, providing health and safety consultative services to general industry clientele throughout North America. Crucefix has a MS degree in Safety Management and is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He is a Canadian registered safety professional (CRSP), a registered safety practicioner (RSP), a fellow in the Institute of Safety and Health (FIOSH) and is a professional member of the Canadian Society of Safety Enginneering and American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). DNV Training Solutions provides the knowledge and skills to assist organizations to achieve performance breakthrough with practical cost-effective solutions for safety, environmental, quality and risk management. For more information, please visit

For further information, see the first article in this series, "A Common Sense Approach to Air Travel Security and Safety."

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