When I flew to the US from Australia I was briefly interviewed by a private security contractor - asking about my plans in the US etc. Other passengers were interviewed at the gate. I was wondering - who pays for these measures? Airlines? Airports? The Australian government? The US government? If the burden is on the airline, do they each hire their own security contractors to do the interviews?

Additionally, flights to the US from Sydney Airport seemed to all take off from a special pen area which you can only enter after being interviewed. Normal gates at Sydney don't have this infrastructure. Does the airport bear the cost of building the new higher security gates?

  • 2
    Note that air travel is subsidized in the US do at least some of the cost of your ticket is indirectly funded by the IS taxpayers.
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 1, 2019 at 14:29
  • 16
    Economically: If anyone besides the taxpayer is officially paying for it, then the real economic cost will ultimately be shared between the consumer, the airline, and the airport, in inverse proportion to their respective price elasticities. You cannot direct a fee at a particular party to an economic transaction; they will always pass it along to other participants.
    – Kevin
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:11
  • 2
    @JonathanReez I'm not sure exactly which subsidies you're referring to. If you're talking about the airport/aviation infrastructure, much of that is indeed funded and/or owned by state, local, and/or federal government, but the governments impose various taxes on the aviation industry to recoup these costs (passenger segment/facility taxes, specific taxes on aviation fuel, federal air passenger excise tax (7.5% of fare,) etc.) Of course, this is not limited to the U.S. Most countries fund aviation infrastructure similarly via taxes and fees on aviation.
    – reirab
    Jul 1, 2019 at 18:51
  • 11
    "IS taxpayers"? That's Islamic state taxpayers, right? I'm happy to hear they are paying for this. Jul 2, 2019 at 0:16
  • 4
    @JonathanReez That's not because of subsidies, but rather due to (much) more competition and economies of scale (and cost-of-living probably factors into it, as well.) Passenger flights into small airports without much volume (which are disproportionately expensive to operate) account for a much larger percentage of the Canadian air travel market than the U.S. market, due to Canada's geography. The U.S. has 42 urban areas with 1M or more population. Canada has only 5, even though both countries have nearly identical land area. Also, the Canadian market has to deal with more extreme weather.
    – reirab
    Jul 2, 2019 at 5:52

4 Answers 4


This is maybe not a conclusive answer, but more than a comment, so posted as an answer: While i can't speak specifically for Australia, in Germany to my knowledge the airport in cooperation with our federal police is responsible for all security related matters. Security checks are usually contracted out (federal police is still responsible).

For the costs however, if you buy a ticket, you pay not only the ticket fare itself, but also a bunch of taxes and fee, which e.g. for Frankfurt as departure airport contain a Germany Airport Security Charge. Sydney as departure airport includes a Australia Passenger Services Charge Departure International.

So in the end the passenger pays for any operational measures, that need to be carried out by an airport.

  • 24
    Also, in USA, the passenger pays for the charge of security. There is special 9/11 security charge added to every ticket. Jul 1, 2019 at 3:44
  • 2
    AFAIK at airports with direct connecting flights the additional agents that are responsible specifically for US clearance are on US government paycheck. Not sure about the space and assets, though. (i.e. if it's rented or simply given for those procedures)
    – Num Lock
    Jul 1, 2019 at 11:10
  • 6
    @NumLock I doubt that is correct. The only US government officers a traveler is likely to encounter before flying into the US are CBP preclearance officers, at only a handful of airports. There is the occasional liason officer, apparently, but I've never seen one. These extra checkpoints are usually staffed by private security contractors, local TSA-analogous government officers, airport staff and/or airline staff. Those people are certainly not receiving their pay directly from the US treasury. Even the private security contractor's employer is unlikely to be contracted directly to the US.
    – phoog
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:43

You pay for it (of course), as a part of your ticket.

If you check the details of your ticket, you will see that a large part of it is from up to a dozen fees, for landing, starting, using airport facilities, and using security checks (for each airport on the flight, including stop-overs).
For example, often a transatlantic ticket costs only $ 80 or less, and the remainder is all fees.

Here a random example: random fee example

  • 3
    You pay for it (of course), why is that an of course? Aviation is massively subsidised with tax money.
    – gerrit
    Jul 2, 2019 at 12:04
  • 4
    Taxes don't appear out of thin air. Somebody has to pay the taxes too...
    – juhist
    Jul 2, 2019 at 13:08
  • 7
    @juhist for the purpose of this question, it seems reasonable to make a distinction between taxes and charges paid by the traveler (i.e., a tax or fee charged directly on the ticket or indirectly because it is paid by the airline which will incorporate that expense into its fares) on one hand, and, on the other, taxes paid by all taxpayers. To the extent that these screenings are covered by the US's general tax receipts, then the airline passenger should not be said to have paid for it (of course, there is some overlap in the two groups, but in general they are not the same).
    – phoog
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:20
  • 4
    @gerrit "Aviation is massively subsidized with tax money" - do you have any sources for this claim? Otherwise, this should go to happily-repeated-rumors.stackexchange.com/ . Fuel is often tax-free, but that (tax-part) is not a significant piece of aviation cost.
    – Aganju
    Jul 2, 2019 at 23:03
  • 1
    @Aganju As one example, Berlin Brandenburg Airport has already received 2 billion € in tax money and isn't even open yet, with the state guaranteeing further loans this may rise. Hundreds of regional airports get taxpayers subsidies in both EU and USA and elsewhere. In the US, TSA also receives tax money. Airports rely on public infrastructure for travellers to get there.
    – gerrit
    Jul 3, 2019 at 7:53

There are a number of airports where such procedures are in place.

In Amsterdam, all passengers on US-bound flights operated by US airlines are interviewed by security personnel before their boarding passes are scanned and they are allowed to proceed in a holding area immediately before the gate. As far as I can tell, these people are not affiliated with the airlines and are not wearing anything to identify their employer.

In Zurich I have been interviewed in the same way by someone wearing a United uniform before boarding a flight to the US. I was one of the last passenger to board so I went straight to the jetbridge and do not remember if there was a designed waiting area for passengers already interviewed (if there was one it was empty). The interview was much lighter than the Amsterdam ones.

In Madrid, an airline agent checking boarding passes "randomly selected" my travel companion for a secondary screening by another agent wearing the same uniform as airport security personnel. They checked his bag (opened it and swabbed it), and he underwent some additional questioning.

There is no such additional interview-type screening when travelling from Canada to US, or from Mexico to US.

On the whole, my sense is that these security agents are paid (directly or indirectly) by the airport, although they might work for third parties. The airline certainly has a presence there, but if they were airline employees they would be identified as such.

(I understand that El Al might be an exception and directly hire their own employees for additional security.)

  • 1
    "As far as I can tell, these people are not affiliated with the airlines": the company that they work for must have been hired by the airlines, since the responsibility to provide adequate security screening is placed on the airlines as a condition of operating the flight to the US.
    – phoog
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:11
  • @phoog You may be right but it seems to me the process varies by airport not by airlines, at least as much as I can see. Plus, why would DL and UA and AA have different schemes? Imagine the liability if one is found to be lacking? Jul 3, 2019 at 2:30
  • 2
    the staff doing the interviews and stuff at AMS for US bound flights are private security firms contracted by the airline and/or their handling agent. The differences between airports are because of differences in the agreements between the US government and specific countries or airports as to how those screenings should be performed in different locations, as well as some differences in local law.
    – jwenting
    Jul 3, 2019 at 3:51
  • @jwentig I learned something today. Jul 3, 2019 at 16:37

Note: This doesn't apply to Australia, but it may be relevant for some visitors to this question.

Some airports and locations, primarily in Canada, have a preclearance procedure that sounds remarkably like what you describe above. In those cases, they are actually US Customs and Border Patrol agents who clear you through customs before you board, so that you can then treat the flight itself like a domestic US flight after you clear. These locations are listed on the US CBP page on preclearance. In those cases, the US government pays, at least for the staff; I suspect who pays for the airport to build the walls/etc. to segregate the US bound gates is more complicated, and is some combination of US and local funds, and undoubtedly paid in some fashion by ticket fees.

  • 2
    This is really something different. This is preclearance immigration and has nothing to do with security, per se. The security clearance described in the question is a system like the one El Al has used for decades for flights to Israel.
    – Alan Munn
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:18
  • @AlanMunn I understand that, but it's also the first thing I thought of when I saw this question - thought it was sufficiently close to be worth mentioning.
    – Joe
    Jul 1, 2019 at 19:04
  • 1
    Yeah this isn't preclearance. These are security contractors who check your travel documents, make sure you have a visa if you need one, maybe ask you some random behavioral assessment questions, do extra security screening at the gate for passengers who the US government identifies as selectees, etc... Jul 1, 2019 at 19:10
  • Interestingly, the preclearance area at Dublin involves "TSA-standard" security, before you get to CBP. This is after standard airport security, and seems to follow the American rules (shoes off, full-body scanners, etc.). I'm not sure why this exists, since other airports in Europe have flights to the US without these measures.
    – Joe Malt
    Jul 2, 2019 at 23:37
  • 1
    @JoeMalt The reason is because, as a consequence of going through preclearance, you would be skipping not only CBP but also the TSA re-check and arriving directly into the departures hall, from where you could board any other flight
    – Aidan
    Oct 14, 2019 at 2:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .