Disparidades en seguridad aérea en Europa, Asia y EE.UU.

By Thomas Fuller and Don Phillips International Herald Tribune Friday, December 24, 2004
PARIS As someone who has taken 100 flights this year, Steve Richardson has a few things to say about airport security.
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In the United States, where he lives, a stick of deodorant inside his luggage once set off the alarm of an explosives-detection machine. A suitcase he checked in was unpacked and then repacked – with someone else’s clothing.
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He said he had been «punished» by security screeners after he balked at taking off his shoes (they subjected him to an intimate pat-down, the kind now being reviewed in the United States after complaints).
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But in Europe and Asia, Richardson and many other passengers report, there is less hassle and more politeness at airport security checks. There is little tension while waiting in line, and screeners use a wand instead of their hands when searching passengers.
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«It’s often a pleasure clearing a checkpoint in Europe while it can be a nightmare here in the States,» Richardson said by e-mail.
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This opinion is shared by Gaston Sendin, a 28-year-old Argentinian who is studying neurobiology near Hannover, Germany, and often travels within Europe and to the United States.
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«In the States, I get the impression they want to appear like barking dogs as a way to dissuade,» said Sendin in the waiting area of Hannover’s small international airport on a recent afternoon.
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Nearby, five screeners operated the x-ray and metal-detection equipment at the gate. A woman and man passed a metal-detecting wand over passengers who set off the walk-through detector. Another screener playfully teased a child at the checkpoint.
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With a longer history of terrorism – everything from attacks by the Irish Republican Army to the bombing of a Pan American jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 – European screeners have had far longer to hone their skills than their U.S. counterparts.
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The European Civil Aviation Conference, led by Britain, reacted to the Lockerbie bombing by requiring baggage to travel on the same plane as the passenger who checked it.
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The United States let 13 years go by before it took that step – after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon.
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The post-9/11 American security measures were put together quickly under orders from Congress. The result was a hodgepodge of measures that are still being reconciled. Airports were not designed for the new screening equipment, which was often installed with little or no planning.
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The 40 countries involved in the European Civil Aviation Conference spent six years planning the design and installation of equipment to screen all luggage, allowing airports the time to integrate the new items. In Europe, 100 percent screening began in 2002.
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But there are also differences on the human level, officials say.
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Travelers say they appreciate the little touches, like the sandals provided at Shanghai’s airport after mandatory shoe removal.
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In Europe, security personnel have been trained to be courteous, and there is continuous training to keep their skills sharp.
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In the United States, courtesy training has been an afterthought, often imposed after public relations disasters such as the recent controversy over pat-downs of women’s breasts.
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«They’ve always been very polite, very smiley,» said Coralie Bouffard, a 22-year-old Web master, after passing through security at Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris.
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Many airports in Europe «make sure their screeners take a two-week course called ‘security with a smile,’ which encourages security personnel to behave as part of the airport customer service team, rather than as cops,» said a senior international security official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of his position. «The entire feel at most European airports is that screening personnel are professional and vigilant.»
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This is often not the case in the United States, where many passengers have complained recently about feeling arbitrarily singled out by screeners.
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Anju Ali, a newspaper editor from India who is living in Wisconsin, says she is often pulled aside and given a more thorough search than other passengers during airport screenings in the United States.
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«I was told by one security agent that I get this special treatment because ‘some people with your last name have done some pretty bad things,»‘ she said.
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In Europe, by contrast, she is not treated differently from other passengers, she said. And in India, she is put through the same procedure as everyone else: those chosen for extra screening are taken to a curtained booth where a screener runs the metal-detecting wand over her body.
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The different approaches to security inside and outside the United States leave many passengers stumped.
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Why, for example, is a passenger in New York asked to remove her suit jacket and walk through the metal detector in a camisole when in Copenhagen she can pass through with a thick sweater and long coat on?
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Why does the U.S. Transportation Security Administration make passengers take their laptops out of their bags, but most other countries do not? Is one system more safe than the other?
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Not necessarily, says Anthony Concil, the spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s major airlines.
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«Security, in order to be effective, doesn’t need to be inconvenient,» Concil said. «Airports in Europe and Asia were built to take security considerations into their architecture.»
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In the United States, in contrast, he said, long lines often build up at airports because newly installed screening equipment is located near check-in counters, with passengers having to bring their suitcases to the screening machine themselves.
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The more relaxed environment at European airports does not please everyone. A businessman at the Paris airport who gave his name only as Bruno said he was puzzled as to why on some days there were multiple identity checks, while on others he showed his identity card only once before boarding.
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«Sometimes I think the controls are a bit light,» he said.
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Richardson, the frequent flier, said that the authorities in the United States should realize that no amount of security is foolproof.
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«We can have all of the security in the world and risk will still exist,» Richardson said. «In many parts of the world, security is sane and I think they realize there is only so much you can do.»
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Like many other travelers, Richardson has found that the U.S. approach to airport security also involves fear. He agreed to comment for this article on condition that his home state not be mentioned.
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«I’d hate to find myself on a government watch list for my comments,» he said, «but these days, you just never know.»
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