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I have lived in Spain many years (born there) and then moved to UK in 2015. Traveled mostly in Europe and North Africa. Also once to Argentina and Tokyo. Since then I have noticed a major difference in airport security depending on the airport:

In LHR, LGW the airport security only asks for the laptop to be taken out (and liquids but this is out of the scope of this question)

In LCY with the new screening system they have in place they tell you to leave everything in your hand luggage and just put it through (I think every airport in the world should be like this).

In EU airports like FRA, GVA, ZRH, ATH, PMI, IBZ, MAD, BCN, GRX, MXP ( I have been through these myself several times in my life) they make you take out “every electronic device” as in: big headphones , power banks, cameras, lenses, laptops, tablets , e-readers, literally every device and this is extremely inconvenient unless you just carry your phone and its charger cable.

In regards to EZE and NRT, they were like in London (LHR or LGW) so no issue there.

I have experienced a similar but not so strict thing at SSH and CAI airport security. There you have to scan your luggage (big and small) before you even enter the airport! Also at security before boarding gate you need to take off your shoes as well no matter what kind of shoes… I understand boots and the like but trainers? This can be material for another question (just more context for the current one),

The main question is then: why? It’s incomprehensible to me that this is like this.

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    Different countries have different laws
    – Midavalo
    Jun 22, 2023 at 14:15
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    It's all show and no substance. Internal tests have shown repeatedly that the TSA detects weapon in less than 10% of all cases. See for example reason.com/2021/11/19/after-20-years-of-failure-kill-the-tsa
    – Hilmar
    Jun 22, 2023 at 15:20
  • @Hilmar I remember seeing an article about a guy showing how to build legitimate (not toy) weapons from what you could buy in the shops after security. And the most secure thing implemented after 9/11 was locks on the cockpit doors.
    – Peter M
    Jun 22, 2023 at 16:37
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    Actually, it can change at the same airport or differ between terminals. For example, you lump EU airports together but AMS moved away from this entirely, now you can leave just about everything in your bags… but they are paranoid about shoes, almost everybody has to remove them.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 23, 2023 at 19:46
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    @Relaxed In Geneva (not the French sector) the protocol is different depending on whether you stay in the room that you enter after scanning your boarding pass or go through the door at the far right of that room to the second room, which has newer scanning machines.
    – phoog
    Jun 30, 2023 at 6:56

2 Answers 2

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It is notionally due to the scanning technology, combined with differing laws. The basic luggage scanner is an X-ray machine. This produces a 2D image. It can be difficult to identify what is 'behind' dense materials like large batteries (as found in laptops). More advanced X-ray scanners are able to discern the density of materials. The most advanced luggage scanners, in use at London City and other some other airports, use CT scanning. This is able to produce a 3D image. Theoretically, if you are able to see in 3D the contents of a bag, there's no need to remove the contents of it. On the basis of these technological improvements, the UK government is encouraging operators to streamline airport security.

The other policy in other airports will be due to differing scanning technology and government policy.

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  • Indeed, I guess it is going to be hard to get every aiport to introduce CT scanning like in LCY (that’s my favourite airport for business travel because of the super streamlined security check). Thank you for the answer it’s really insightful and informative Jun 23, 2023 at 7:17
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    Rich countries like the USA are buying lots of CT scanners for deployment at airport security checkpoints. Since the cost of CT scanners is going to come down with time as they become more common, I believe CT scanning will eventually become the standard across the world (or at least at major international airports). Jun 30, 2023 at 2:31
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    @AlejandroRamónFernández this ought to be the accepted answer. In Geneva the rules about what you need to take out of the bag depend on which line you join after scanning your boarding pass to enter the security screening area. There are two rooms with different machines, and if you join the line that takes you to the second room you leave everything in your bag.
    – phoog
    Jun 30, 2023 at 7:05
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    @AlejandroRamónFernández Airports are in the process of switching over to the CT scanners, so it is a matter of time and cost (which the airports must finance). 2023-05-18: How Much Do Airport Security Scanners Cost? Unfortunately, these devices start at $300,000, so it will be some time before most airports are able to adopt them. For those who want this happen more swiftly, airports will, no doubt, accept donations for the acquisition and maintanace costs (which in time will become cheaper). Jun 30, 2023 at 17:38
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It's all security theater, with different decorations

Since 9/11 it became popular with politicians to compete against each other on who can come up with the most ridiculous airport security arrangements, as voters are irrational and treat terrorist attacks on air travel infrastructure much more seriously than any other terrorist attacks. As a result we now have to take off our shoes, can't take large bottles of water and have to take out laptops from our bags. It's not too different from how a circus in London might have clowns wearing a small red wig, while a circus in Singapore might have clowns wearing a giant blue wig. There's no logic behind any of it, so trying to analyze it logically will not succeed.

That being said, two changes since 9/11 have indeed been successful in preventing all future hijackings:

  1. The door to the pilots cabin is now bulletproof and impossible to unlock from the outside
  2. Passengers now know that they need to fight for their lives in case of a hijacking

Everything else is pointless and in an ideal world we'd be back to the security arrangements that we've had on September 10th 2001. But voters are irrational so this will likely never happen. The only two solutions are to avoid flying (though security theater is sadly expanding to other forms of transportation these days) or to use a private jet.

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  • Yes, I do agree. There is not much logic behind the different security arrangements. There should be a “world “ security guidance so we have the same at every airport (although this is probably a pipe dream of mine). Essentially we are at the mercy of the decision makers, in airport security and many other daily life matters. I like the analogy with the circus, that just shows we are all human. If this was an algorithm then it would be a different story (or not since humans write algorithms’ code after all). Thank you for your answer, appreciate it. Jun 22, 2023 at 14:43
  • @AlejandroRamónFernández I suggest the book Basic Economics for hundreds more examples of irrational voter behavior.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 22, 2023 at 14:58
  • @JonathanReez-onstrike "As a result we now have to take off our shoes". This isn't a universal requirement. It isn't the case in all parts of the world. Which also agrees with the security theater aspect.
    – Peter M
    Jun 22, 2023 at 16:39
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    It is a real shame I cannot upvote this more than one time. This answer deserves a +100 Jun 23, 2023 at 8:20
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    @PeterM in places where you don't have to take off your shoes, you frequently still do have to take them off if the metal detector says so. The difference in protocol is typically about tolerance for this inefficiency. I have a pair of shoes with a piece of metal inside that I always takes off because I don't want to have to go through the metal detector twice.
    – phoog
    Jun 30, 2023 at 7:01

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