The Future of Passenger Screening

Following our article The Evolution of Passenger Screening, we explore how the current pandemic has accelerated new technologies and operational paradigms to create the swift and smooth process of passengers through security checkpoints.
Future of passenger screening | NACO
So what will future passenger screening look like? This article examines that question and explores how security checkpoint developments can support the rethinking and redesigning of the passenger security screening process.
The Future of Passenger Screening | NACO

Security Lane Technology Upgrades

To mitigate health risks throughout the security process, conventional x-ray equipment can be replaced with CT technology and enhanced body scanner algorithms can be implemented reducing the need for passengers to part with belongings and creating fewer touchpoints. Integrating these solutions with automated tray return systems equipped with tray disinfection modules will mitigate the health concern and facilitate the required safer environment for passengers and operators.

Self-Service and Pull Instead of Push

Self-service is one of the promising initiatives for changing the current labour and space-intensive security lane setup. There are a number of opportunities already available within, but also outside of the aviation industry; for example solutions like video assistance during the self-service process at the entrance of each security lane.

Today, checkpoint security is very much a “push” process. From the queue, a passenger starts divesting their items when space becomes available and advances to the next step in the process regardless of whether the person ahead has completed that step. This results in an accumulation of passengers at the slowest security process, for instance before a body scanner, or at the reclaim point.

A “pull” system is based on monitoring passenger density, where sensors measure the occupancy at each step of the security process and guide passengers towards the next step only when there is enough capacity. By pulling passengers to the next step instead of pushing them, the build-up of passengers is avoided within the security lanes, which facilitates social distancing.

Virtual Queue

Another opportunity for safer and more efficient checkpoints is to significantly reduce queues by introducing virtual queuing at security. The concept is not new, many theme parks, for example, have adopted systems where visitors can reserve a place in a virtual queue and claim access to attractions at their designated arrival time.

A similar concept has been implemented at security checkpoints at several airports long before this pandemic, but the trend is now accelerating. Besides avoiding crowds, advanced data on passengers’ checkpoint processing preferences, obtained through the virtual queue reservation system, could result in better checkpoint staffing and resource allocation.

On top of all this, virtual queuing allows airport operators to gain much-needed commercial, and dwell space by converting queuing areas that are no longer needed.

De-Peaking and Commercial Opportunities

The number of security screening lanes, like any other passenger processing point in a terminal, is driven by peak-hour demand. Therefore, theoretically, it should be possible to flatten the peaks by controlling the time when passengers present for screening. The “flattening of the peaks” result in a lower number of screening lanes required and in more efficient utilisation of screening personnel, as peaks are lower in magnitude, but longer in duration.

This can be achieved by taking the concept of virtual queuing and extending it to include differential pricing that allows a passenger to pay a premium to obtain a virtual spot in the queue closer to their time of departure. For example, those travelling for business often want to arrive at the airport at the last possible moment, check-in virtually without hold luggage and move swiftly through security screening. They are likely to be willing to pay more for this faster process, with online booking and payment in advance before arriving at the airport.

For those passengers who are not in a rush and are less willing to pay for a desired place in the virtual queue, an algorithm will assign a time that would minimise the peak-demand while still guaranteeing adequate time to be airside before flight departure. With Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, it is now possible to have smart optimisation algorithms that achieve just that.


Many airports have already embarked on the so-called biometrically-enabled seamless passenger journey, by introducing cameras at most processing points and using facial recognition technology to verify identity. This technology, when fully embraced, will eventually eliminate the need for passengers to frequently present the same documents (passport, boarding pass, and the latest addition, a health certificate) at various processing points.

This technology could enable risk-based screening where most low risk passengers would be processed faster reducing the number of required interactions between passenger and staff. As passengers initiate the divestment process, their faces are captured by cameras, their identity verified and the security risk established through government databases. Risk-based algorithms are then automatically applied to the screening of their belongings and to determine whether secondary screening is required.

This technology could allow passengers with different statuses (e.g., international, domestic) to co-exist in the same space. Consolidating security checkpoints would bring significant savings both in terms of staff and infrastructure.

Flexibility and Personalisation

Self-service innovations may be embraced more by frequent travellers than occasional leisure passengers. Tech-savvy travellers will want to use an app to reserve a timeslot to proceed through security at the time that suits them best – and not everybody will be comfortable with sharing biometric data.

Therefore, each solution should be implemented in a way that it can be flexibly operated and incrementally expanded. Also, terminal processes should not depend on these technologies but benefit from them. A virtual queue will probably not replace the queuing area with commercial space altogether, but if half the passengers make use of it, a far smaller queuing area will be required. By doing this, passengers are given a choice and can select their preferred level of service in the terminal.

Developments on the Horizon

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to security checkpoints. Historically, security checkpoints have always evolved with emerging threats and risks, which typically each time lead to a slower and more costly process that consumes more and more airport space.

As a result, checkpoints today are focusing on processing as many passengers as possible and require large areas for passengers to queue. Checkpoints are not designed to comply with physical distancing requirements, minimum staff interaction and touchless technology – leaving airports with a serious and complex challenge.

Fortunately there are promising developments on the horizon, which focus on driving down the cost, staff numbers, and floor space required. New devices and software innovations (i.e., AI, machine/deep learning), the introduction of self-service and biometrics are the road to a new era of aviation security that is gearing up to provide an answer to the current and evolving threats while answering the demand of airports and passengers for a robust, swift and smooth process – without the queues.

This is the time to test and trial new technologies and operating frameworks that will help you achieve a safer and seamless passenger journey. Contact us to find out how you can prepare you for the post-pandemic recovery.


  • René Hopstaken, Anna Fantoni, Alisa Silven, Wahyu Hariyono, Patrick Lo-A-Njoe and Gerard van der Veer of NACO
  • Paul van Gaalen, Robin van Gemert and Gunther van Adrichem of Point.FWD
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Contact the experts