The safest airline in the world, it is widely agreed, is El Al, Israel’s national carrier. The safest airport is Ben Gurion International, in Tel Aviv. No El Al plane has been attacked by terrorists in more than three decades, and no flight leaving Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked.
The Israelis check for bombs and weapons too, but always with the understanding that things don’t hijack planes, terrorists do — and that the best way to detect terrorists is to focus on intercepting not bad things, but bad people. To a much greater degree than in the United States, security at El Al and Ben Gurion depends on intelligence and intuition — what Rafi Ron, the former director of security at Ben Gurion, calls the human factor.
Israeli airport security, much of it invisible to the untrained eye, begins before passengers even enter the terminal. Officials constantly monitor behavior, alert to clues that may hint at danger: bulky clothing, say, or a nervous manner. Profilers — that’s what they’re called — make a point of interviewing travelers, sometimes at length. They probe, as one profiling supervisor told CBS, for “anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit.” Their questions can seem odd or intrusive, especially if your only previous experience with an airport interrogation was being asked whether you packed your bags yourself.
Unlike in US airports, where passengers go through security after checking in for their flights and submitting their luggage, security at Ben Gurion comes first. Only when the profiler is satisfied that a passenger poses no risk is he or she allowed to proceed to the check-in counter. By that point, there is no need to make him remove his shoes, or to confiscate his bottle of water
Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport increased security following an attempted terrorist attack on a flight to the United States. Airline passengers traveling from Israel to the United States will also be subjected to additional questioning
Ben Gurion International Airport is one of the world’s most heavily secured airports. Security operates on several levels.
* All cars, taxis, buses and trucks go through a preliminary security checkpoint before entering the airport compound. Armed guards spot-check the vehicles by looking into cars, taxis and boarding buses, exchanging a few words with the driver and passengers.
* Armed security personnel stationed at the terminal entrances keep a close watch on those who enter the buildings. If someone arouses their suspicion or looks nervous, they may strike up a conversation to further assess the person’s intent. Plainclothes armed personnel patrol the area outside the building, and hidden surveillance cameras operate at all times.
* Inside the building, both uniformed and plainclothes security officers are on constant patrol.
* Departing passengers are personally questioned by security agents even before arriving at the check-in desk. This interview can last as little as five minutes, or as long as an hour if a passenger is selected for additional screening. Luggage and body searches may be conducted. After the search, bags are placed through an X-ray machine before passengers proceed to the check-in counters. All that said, El Al and Ben Gurion airport has for a long time realised that the person is more important than their bags. Therefore, occasionally, if security have assessed a person as a low risk, they will pass them straight through to the check-in desks, bypassing the main x-ray machines. Note that hand baggage is always x-rayed later on.
* After check-in, checked baggage is put in a pressure chamber to trigger any possible explosive devices. Passengers continue through to personal security and passport control, as in other airports. Before passing through the metal detectors and placing hand baggage through the X-ray machine, passports are re-checked and additional questions may be asked. Before boarding the aircraft, passports and boarding passes are checked once again.
* Security procedures for incoming flights are not as stringent, but passengers may be questioned by passport control depending on country of origin, or countries visited prior to arrival in Israel. Passengers who have recently visited countries at war with Israel (all Arab countries except Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Qatar) may be subject to further questioning
– Beyer, Lisa. “Is This What We Really Want?”. TIME. http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101010924/belal.html.
How do the Israelis do it? For one thing, El Al puts at least one armed, plainclothes sky marshal on all its flights. One such agent foiled a hijack attempt over Holland in 1970. During El Al flights, the cockpit door, made of reinforced steel strong enough to repel fire from a handgun, remains locked. On the ground, the Israelis not only use the standard metal detectors and X-ray machines but also lean on teams of young agents, dressed in blue slacks and white shirts, who interrogate, to varying degrees, every passenger departing Ben Gurion and, in airports abroad, anyone flying El Al. The questions can include: “When did you book this flight?” “Who paid for the ticket?” “Why are you traveling?” “Whom did you meet while in Israel?” Business travelers are asked for documents proving they actually are pursuing a particular deal. Journalists are asked to reveal the stories they are going to cover. One agent will ask questions for a while, then a second will ask many of the same. The two will compare notes, and one or the other will ask a third batch of queries. This process often takes 20 minutes; it can take two hours.
The idea is to turn up inconsistencies in a terrorist’s made-up story (or at least rattle him into a panic) and also expose individuals who may be unknowing accomplices. In 1986, El Al security at London’s Heathrow airport discovered a bomb sewn into the suitcase of an unwitting Irish woman after she revealed that she had had a romance with a Jordanian, who had bought her the bag.
– “What can we learn from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel to help push aviation security in the U.S. to the next level?”. Access Control & Security Systems. http://securitysolutions.com/news/security_exposing_hostile_intent.
– Prada, Paulo; Michaels, Daniel (17 September 2001). “Israel airport is safe but hard to emulate”. The Wall Street Journal. http://archives.californiaaviation.org/airport/msg17059.html.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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