Playing the security line challenge (with some help from George Clooney)

Ben Hunt

Group Communications Director, Amadeus IT Group

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This is from the film ‘Up in the Air’ when George Clooney’s frequent flyer character Ryan explains his approach to security queues in airports to his friend Alex.


“Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes. Gotta love 'em.”

If he had time to take Amadeus’ Future Travel Tribes survey, Ryan, who travels relentlessly (obsessively) for work, would unquestionably come out as an ‘Obligation Meeter’, as I did.  He has to be somewhere and wants the simplest, most efficient means of getting there (in his case while maximising his American Airlines frequent flyer miles account.

I think of Ryan and his old people and Asians strategy regularly when I approach the security queues at airports. Nobody likes to stand in these queues and most of us will have experienced a nerve-wracking wait in line watching someone set off the machine with their watch or phone or belt as the clock ticks down on the closure of the gate.

As a frequent business traveller experience has taught me a pre-security routine that gets me through the process pretty quickly and so I tend to look for queues populated by similar people. It’s not fool-proof by any means though. I set the beeper off just this week in Lisbon airport where the foil wrapper from a chocolate I was given on check-out from my hotel held me (and the rest of the line) up as I was searched and forced to remove my shoes.

Unlike many business travellers I know, however, once I’m through security I really like airports, particularly brand new, airy modern ones like Heathrow T5, Bangkok, and Hamad International. They tend to offer good dining options and excellent post-trip present shopping (this is the hidden cost of business travel). But – better than both of those – they are the best places in the world to watch people, because all human life comes through these inter-continental cross roads. Nowhere else do you find the sheer variety of people of all ages, races and outlooks.

And with the advent of the new Traveller Tribes 2030, I have a new sport: matching the traveller to the tribe. It’s not all that easy. In ‘Up in the Air’, Alex describes Ryan’s behaviour as racist a charge he denies, saying he “stereotypes’. But crossing gender, age and race lines as the Traveller Tribes do, they defy stereotyping. Not every Ethical Travelleris carrying a rucksack with a Greenpeace patch and few Simplicity Searchersare slavishly following a tour guide. I am primarily a business traveller, but I rarely wear a suit.

And that’s the beauty of the study, it recognises difference and that every traveller has a unique story and their own set of requirements and the successful travel company is the one that understands that and reacts accordingly.

It doesn’t make picking the fastest security line any easier, but if it was too easy, it wouldn’t be any fun right?