Airline passengers face body scanners and double searches

Airline passengers will face double searches and profiling after Gordon Brown demanded extra security in UK airports.

Full body scanners will be introduced at Heathrow within weeks where they will be used for flights to all destinations and not just those bound for the United States.

The Department for Transport will instruct other airports across the country to install the scanners, costing around £100,000 each, as soon as possible. As well as being searched as they pass into departures, new rules will allow staff to pat down passengers at the gate, immediately before they board.

It takes roughly 20 seconds to screen an individual passenger. Airports are also expected to bring in more sniffer dogs and increase their use of passenger profiling, or identifying those most likely to pose a risk to an aircraft.

The announcements came after the Prime Minister pledged the Government would do everything possible to tighten up airport security: “We have recognised that there are now forms of weapon that are being used by al-Qaeda and we have got to respond accordingly,” he said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.

“First of all in airports people will see gradually being brought in the use of a full body scanners. They will see checks for explosives traces that will be done on hand luggage. Transit passengers will also be checked as well as transfer passengers.”

Under existing European law, body scanners can only be used as a further security measure. Getting approval for their introduction as the standard means of screening travellers could prove difficult, with the members of the European parliament complaining that they amount to “virtual strip searching”.

The increased use of passenger profiling is the most controversial of the new security measures. Some fear that profiling could mean that ethnic minority passengers are targeted, supporters of the technique say it is far more sophisticated and entails looking out for abnormal behaviour such as paying for a ticket cash or turning up for a long-haul flight without any check-in baggage.