Lonely Planet Writer

Air passengers don't want airport security staff replaced by robots

Air passengers are only beginning to see the incredible value of technology on their travels with electronic boarding passes, automated passport gates, and other innovations saving time and money.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' robot, named Spencer.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ robot, named Spencer. Image by KLM

However, one area that frequent flyers are reluctant to see end up completely automated is when it comes to their security. A new survey has revealed that 67% of passengers find the idea of robots or computers replacing humans in roles related to safety or security frightening. However, more than half of all travellers felt this type of technology was inevitable and that they would in future be dealing with artificial intelligence all through their journeys.

A visitor tries French manufacturer Thales'border control system with automated biometric at the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 17, 2015.
A visitor tries French manufacturer Thales’border control system with automated biometric at the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 17, 2015. Image by Getty Images

The survey reveals however, that not all are convinced fully robotic or automated security checks would be a bad thing – with 35% saying they believed it “would dramatically improve” things. A majority of interviewees said machines were better at learning processes than humans (77%), had better memories (76%), and were less likely to make mistakes (73%).

Richard Singer of Travelzoo, the firm who carried out the research, said: “Although travellers accept robots and technology are going to play a big role in making travel safer and more secure over the next few years, the research confirms that consumers are sceptical about handing total control for their safety over to machines.”

A robot helps passengers to find their way on June 13, 2013 a the baggage claim area of Geneva International Airport.
A robot helps passengers to find their way on June 13, 2013 a the baggage claim area of Geneva International Airport. Image by Getty Images

The survey of US and UK travellers also found passengers had more faith in humans for subtle skills like emotional intelligence, understanding facial expressions, and expressing feelings. When asked who would they trust more working at a security scanner at an airport, or when checking passports – they said people would be better. In fact, the survey found that the only role travellers felt technology would do better than humans was in loading checked baggage onto a plane, and even then only after a “human” security check.

Travelzoo’s Richard Singer said many airlines were racing to use the latest technological developments but that when it came to dealing directly with customers – they might need to “err on the side of caution” before replacing real staff.

Other key findings from the survey revealed:

–          54% felt a combination of human pilot and autopilot is the safest way to fly.

–          60% said they would choose a plane flown by a human on their own, as compared to autopilot (without human assistance).

–          A third of those surveyed would be happy to see drones used for aerial surveillance in busy resorts and tourist destinations to keep them safer.