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Special Report: Inside the World's Most Secure Airport

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There are many aviation security systems that outclass our own. Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International is the gold standard. Here's how it works.

1. ARRIVAL
Checkpoints at the two main entry roads are guarded by Uzi-armed soldiers and inspectors who review documents for every car. Suspicious passengers and vehicles may be searched.

2. DROP-OFF
Curbside baggage checks are nonexistent, and cars must quickly drop off passengers or head for designated parking lots. Armed undercover security staffers monitor entrances and can stop and question passengers before they go inside.

3. Q&A
All passengers are interviewed by security personnel trained by the Israel Aviation Authority in conjunction with Israeli intelligence and security agencies. Interviewers, who often are students with some military combat experience, look for such warning signs as nervousness; lack of a concrete reason for traveling into, out of, or through Israel; and a suspicious travel history. "Risky" passengers may be sent to private rooms for questioning and searches. Employees are regularly tested by undercover colleagues.

4. CHECK-IN
Check-in proceeds much as it does in the U.S.A., but airline staff focuses solely on airline matters.

5. UNATTENDED BAGGAGE
Uniformed and undercover security guards are trained to detect unattended baggage immediately; if not identified, the bags may be destroyed.

6. BEHIND THE SCENES
Working with a variety of intelligence agencies, Israeli agents scout out bomb threats, check flight manifests, and monitor terrorist cells worldwide. Relevant findings are relayed to ground personnel at Ben Gurion. The airport is also fully integrated into Israel's military operations and is monitored for external threats; on-site military aircraft are available for its defense.

7. TO THE DEPARTURE GATES
The two staircases to the boarding area are under heavy surveillance, and passengers may ascend only after presenting security personnel with boarding passes and passports, which are tagged with stickers that may change color or appearance throughout the day. Once upstairs, passengers may not reenter the check-in area.

8. CARRY-ON BAGS
Technicians trained by the same governmental bodies as their Q&A counterparts screen all hand luggage, using mostly Israeli-made devices. Staffers are in constant contact with other security personnel, and are warned of any suspicious passengers heading their way.

9. WASTE DISPOSAL
Trash bins made of impact-resistant plastics are designed to explode upward.

10. CARGO
Before arrival, shippers are prescreened and must provide details such as company history, origin of products, and destination, all of which are double-checked. Cargo destined for El Al flights is placed in a decompression chamber to find and contain pressurized explosives.

11. BOARDING
Passengers present boarding passes and passports to airline staff, who check for security stickers. They then descend to the tarmac, where buses shuttle them to their planes. Undercover guards patrol both the departures area and the tarmac. For all El Al flights, armed, plainclothes "sky marshals" circulate among the passengers and can prevent suspicious passengers from boarding.

12. ON BOARD
On El Al flights, cockpit doors—two sets, the outer one made of steel—are secured once pilots have taken their seats, and remain so throughout the flight. Pilots and flight attendants are trained to handle hijackings and terrorist attacks.

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