Catching up on reading after my recent trip overseas Seth's post on "Fear, hope and love" reminded me of the recent experiences in several airports with pre-light security - in the US, France and the UK - and the impression it left one.
In the USA the TSA are taking theatre to a fine art and not really adding much feeling of security. I'm sure they help but they're not making the process of air travel that much more pleasant. On this most recent trip it wasn't too bad. The queues were short (the advantage of flying out early on a Sunday morning I guess) and the inconvenience fairly minimal - laptops out, shoes off but I got to keep my belt on. I was amused to discover that although they confiscate things like nail files it's possibly to buy them in the stores air-side. Maybe they're less dangerous if you just paid a huge markup for them.
In France I was annoyed at the need to re-pass security. I was only using Charles de Gaulle as a transit point - I'd been cleared by the TSA and in secure areas ever since... why did I need clearing again just to board a flight to Heathrow. It wasn't because they don't trust the Americans - the same thing happened to me going the other way as well. It's not like the French are the victims of much in the way of international terrorism (some would argue they are more likely to be the perpetrators!). The queuing area was a little less salubrious and tight for space but the staff were fairly friendly. Laptops, boots and this time belt all had to come off.
The UK seemed to have the most thorough screening process, but it was also the slickest and least disruptive. A spacious feel, good lighting, air conditioning that kept everything from getting hot under the collar created the right atmosphere for the process. Preliminary checks for liquids etc (with plenty of workspace to re-pack your back if needed) ensured the folks carrying a full tube of toothpaste didn't make everyone else wait. The best bit was not having to take my laptop out of the bag at the x-ray machine (keeps the queue flowing, reduces the fear that it's going to get stolen the other side, and reduces the rush to re-pack your bag when you rejoin it after the scan). Belt and boots both had to come off, but only because both have fairly large buckles. Despite the English reputation for taciturn and authoritarian behavior I found my former fellow countrymen to be the least intimidating, yet more reassuring, of the three glimpses of the security machine.
I'd hate to say who is doing most to keep the public safe, and who is having the most positive impact on passenger experience (thought the folks at T2 LHR seem to be ahead in my book) but returning to Seth's point selling hope (I won't go as far as offering airline security "love") rather than fear is the better strategy.
I know we'll never return to the casual travel days of the 1980s but by taking as much care of the branding and experience around security as the airlines do of other aspects of their public face it can certainly become a pleasant and safe experience again.