65

I take the same flight with the same company between two European neighboring countries once a month.

My boarding passes are on my smartphone, but as I book my flights months in advance, I often have 3 or 4 boarding passes on my phone.

During my previous flights, I noticed the security agents at the airport seem not to be really careful, so I decided to test them, trying to enter in my flight with the boarding pass for next month (legally bought, but valid only next month)

There are 3 security checkpoints in this airport:

  • First, before cabine luggage X-ray, someone from the company ask for people to show their boarding pass. So I showed the "wrong" pass on my smartphone, she looked at it a quarter of a second and wish me a pleasant flight... First "security" checkpoint DONE
  • Then, where your cabine luggage is X-rayed, they ask for the boarding pass, and the QR code printed on it is read by a machine. I expected to be caught at this moment but the light turns green!
    So I was allowed to enter in international area with a wrong boarding pass! What is checked at this moment ? Only if the QR code is valid ? If so, the date is not checked, which IMO is not normal. I'm not into IT security, but I guess it's not that hard to generate false QR codes to enter in any international area all around the world, which is a little bit freaky…
    Second "security" checkpoint DONE
  • Finally, at the boarding gate, the light turns red when I presented the wrong card ; so I apologized, showed the right one and finally entered the flight.

This happens one month ago. Last week, I took the same flight again and showed the same boarding pass to enter in international area (which was the "good" one that time). And I was allowed again to enter, which means one can enter multiple times with the same boarding pass.

I don't know how to deal with this situation.
Should I report my experience to the airport? Should I be worried about "security"?

Or is it just normal?

  • 37
    Er just a guess, but admitting to authorities that you broke the law is a good way to get arrested. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Nov 15 '16 at 8:45
  • 52
    Note that the QR code machine would also be fooled by a perfectly valid booking pass that doesn't belong to you (booked under another name), so it's not as if it adds any real security in the first place. – RemcoGerlich Nov 15 '16 at 8:54
  • 42
    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas: 1) What law did he break? 2) Even if he did break any, just saying that you did is hardly sufficient evidence for anything. – RemcoGerlich Nov 15 '16 at 8:55
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    It's security theater, rather than security anyway, which seems to be something you've overlooked. – HopelessN00b Nov 15 '16 at 15:54
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    Considering TSA statistics indicate they miss ~90% or prohibited items, scanning the wrong boarding pass is hardly something to feel concerned about. – Johns-305 Nov 16 '16 at 18:39
106

You didn't skip any security controls. Your luggage was checked and you went through a metal scanner. Finally, you were not allowed on board without a proper ticket. The rest is just to prevent people from accompanying their friends and family to the gate. Merely being in the terminal is not a security flaw per se, since pretty much anyone can buy a ticket and enter the secure area.

Speaking of which, I've tried the same "trick" (QR code for a different flight) at Prague Airport recently and it didn't work for the terminal access scan. However the Duty Free was happy to sell me anything without a proper check, so it was in theory possible to buy alcohol for non-EU prices.

A hacker was even able to use a spoofed QR code to enter the Turkish Airlines business-class lounge, so the level of checks must be different across different airports and terminal areas.

  • 4
    Yep I heard about this hacker. Funny to see that there is not as much "ultra-security" as they want we believe... And yeah I didn't think about people accompanying travelers to the gate, good point – AlexB Nov 16 '16 at 8:13
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    One thing to keep in mind as well is that many of these things do not have any security benefit. They are security theater done to make people feel like something is being done, but they actually do not make you safer. This pacification of the traveling public is a valid thing because in general people are panicky and dumb in large groups. – Ukko Nov 16 '16 at 15:42
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    @Ukko I'm not sure if it's really 'security theater', as the current process solves an important task: preventing travelers from bringing their friends/family to the gate. In India they go one step further and don't even allow non-passengers to enter the airport building, possibly because family sizes are much larger. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Nov 16 '16 at 15:47
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    @JonathanReez What security threat does preventing families from entering the terminal protect against? And if you thing of something like "too many people in an area is a soft target" then ask why we don't do the same thing for busy shopping centers? Using a security concern as a cover to achieve some other ends, like keeping families out, or a professional sports increasing their vending sales by blocking you from bringing in outside food or drink. That is not security, it is security theater, for the purpose of crowd management. – Ukko Nov 16 '16 at 16:35
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    @Ukko it prevents security checks from being overloaded. If each passenger brings at least a single friend, your lines are now twice as long. Same with passport control - if passengers complain now, imagine their reactions once everything is doubled in duration :) – JonathanReez Supports Monica Nov 16 '16 at 16:54
68

The reason why you have to show your boarding cards at the security check is not because it is insecure to let people without boarding passes in (there is no particular reason to think people without boarding cards are more dangerous than people with boarding cards), but merely to reduce the workload of the security screens.

If people without boarding cards were allowed through security, many friends and family of departing passengers might want to accompany them to the gate, making the checkpoint lines longer for everybody and potentially requiring more security screeners to be hired.

But it is not really security problem to let people without boarding cards through the check, given that they (you) were subjected to the same actual security screening for dangerous items as everyone else.

  • I'm pretty sure the reason is that you're possibly entering a tax-free zone – Stephan Bijzitter Nov 15 '16 at 11:06
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    @StephanBijzitter That is not a security problem. – gerrit Nov 15 '16 at 11:29
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    Exactly, so this question can be answered as "No, because it's not about security in the first place". – Stephan Bijzitter Nov 15 '16 at 12:07
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    @StephanBijzitter: In my experience, at most airports in Europe the airside concourse is used both by domestic, intra-EU and out-of-EU passengers, and your boarding card must be scanned at the till in order to buy "duty-free" items. So a pre-security boarding card check is not really relevant for that. – Henning Makholm Nov 15 '16 at 12:23
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    @PeterA.Schneider on the way out you simply make use of your daily import quota :) – JonathanReez Supports Monica Nov 16 '16 at 11:49
16

If you're concerned about that minor issue, you should really look into how the USA's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) failed 95% of security tests last year. A simple Google search for "TSA failure rate" will reveal dozens of articles on how airport security is nothing but mere theater. And yet it costs that country's taxpayers roughly US$7 billion per year.

  • That one made me smile, but your logic is wrong. Why should TSA pass any security assessments? Security is not what they provide. TSA is a means to fool people into believing they are safe, and a means to give people who won't get another job something to do. Nothing else, really. It's not like terrorists would go through controls in the first place. They'll drive a car with a trunk full of explosives through the wide open gate right onto the airfield, and hand it to their accomplice who works in baggage handling... – Damon Nov 18 '16 at 15:35
6

An far more important reason than security concerns for having to present your boarding pass at the security line is to help channel passengers to their correct departure areas. They look at the boarding pass you present, and if it's one for the far other end of the airport direct you there rather than having you enter the wrong place and possibly hours later have to rush several kilometers to get to your actual gate.

As the vast majority of passengers won't have more than one boarding pass with them at any one time, your experience is just not one that is handled by this small extra bit of customer service.
In fact at Schiphol they have airport staff standing before the actual security lines directing you this way or that based on your boarding pass (just as they have people directing you to checkin lines based on your ticket).

  • If that were a decisive reason for the check, it doesn't explain why (a) the check is found even in airports with only one line of security checkpoints, nor (b) why a non-passenger cannot accompany a passenger through the checkpoint even at the right place for the passenger's flight. – Henning Makholm Nov 19 '16 at 13:35
  • “Passengers only” is not rigid. I accompanied a friend to her gate at FWA two years ago. – WGroleau Jan 1 '18 at 7:31
  • @WGroleau seems like a security breach to me. You'd never get past security without a boarding pass on any modern airport I've visited since 9/11 (and most less strict ones). In many places you'd not even get TO security (e.g. at Amsterdam you need to open a guarded gate with your boarding pass to get into the security line before entering the departure lounge), and in some not even inside the terminal building. – jwenting Jan 3 '18 at 9:44
  • @jwenting: Actually, either TSA or the airline (I forget which) gave me a document authorizing me to accompany her. Perhaps they were short of staff (she needed assistance). So, it's true that you won't get in without showing something, but not that you "must" be a passenger. If by Amsterdam you mean AMS, in late 2014, I don't recall having to open a gate with my boarding pass. – WGroleau Jan 5 '18 at 14:59
  • @WGroleau that system was only implemented at AMS in 2016 :) Took me by surprise too the first time I saw it. – jwenting Jan 8 '18 at 8:20
6
+100

Security checks need to be updated when they fail, so it does help if individuals who notice a possible fail inform the service that runs or controls them.

I noticed that in more places the boarding pass checks are done by machines and it is more likely for those to catch the wrong dates if the software is instructed to do so.
I think it is good to warn the security firms and the airports in case they have overlooked the option of using a still to come boarding pass. There are not that many companies that allow you to check in more than 30 hours ahead of time and it is likely that the date is not part of the checks now because of that. Most people will not have boarding passes for more than the current and the next day.

But on the other hand, I do not think your security was ever less than acceptable, if not 100%. It is not hard to buy an international ticket and get a boarding pass for any given day and unless you are suspected of being or becoming a terrorist nobody will worry about you having one.
The security person at the first checkpoint has no reason to be suspicious of people using a future time boarding pass. And you were not allowed on the flight with the wrong pass, so no harm done there as well.

0

Good security checks depend very much on detecting suspicious behaviour. If you have a valid boarding pass and by mistake go to the wrong gate, you will be behaving like someone who has a valid boarding pass and raise no suspicious. If you have a forged boarding pass and intentionally go to a gate where you shouldn't be, you may very will raise suspicion and be stopped. You can't judge security by their inability to stop innocent travellers that made some mistake.

0

As pointed out by others, boarding pass "checks" at security are usually not really there for security reasons. It's completely meaningless without also checking associated photo ID, and that's done at the gate.

As already stated by others, reasons for the "check" include avoiding non-passengers entering the secure area and making sure you enter the right terminal. When checked manually, the person doing the checks is usually concentrated on checking a single item on each boarding pass, usually the terminal or gate area, or the airline, nothing more.

Another reason for the "check" (but that usually involves a scan at each point, so it's probably not the case here) is to count waiting times. Someone will scan your boarding pass when you enter the queue, someone else will scan it once you actually get to the scanner. And the end result is displayed on pretty little screens.

  • In my most recent flights, I noticed that the persons letting me into the security screen physically put check marks on three items on the boarding pass. Two of these were US TSA; the others were mainland China. All of them compared my passport photo to my face. At the actual boarding gate, the Chinese did not look at my passport. The Chinese, both mainland and Taiwan, also took a face photo at immigration screening on arrival. – WGroleau Jan 5 '18 at 15:08

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