Airport Security Personnel


Exploring this Job

To explore this job, observe security personnel at work your next time at the airport. Notice how many people are involved in screening luggage and passengers. While you should not talk to these screeners and other security staff while they are at work, you may be able to schedule an interview with security personnel while they are on break or perhaps over the phone. Talk to a teacher or your school counselor for help in arranging this.

You can also learn about security jobs at your local library or online. Explore the TSA Web site for facts and job descriptions and changes in policy. The links at the end of this article are good places to start your research.

The Job

Protecting U.S. skies, airports, and passengers is a huge undertaking that requires many qualified, well-trained individuals in different security roles. The most visible airport security worker is the security screener, also called the baggage and passenger screener. These workers use computers, X-ray machines, and handheld scanners to screen bags and their owners passing through airport terminals. In addition to using technology to help them identify dangerous items, they also have to depend on their own eyesight to catch suspicious behavior and read the X-ray screens for signs of danger. These workers must be focused and alert, while also remaining personable and courteous to people being screened. The screening process can take a lot of time during high-volume travel days, and passengers waiting in line may be late for a flight, impatient, or simply rude. For this reason, security screeners must be people-oriented, able to manage crowds, and maintain composure in what can be stressful conditions.

The need for security is not limited to the ground. Air marshals, also called security agents, have the demanding job of protecting airline passengers and staff from on-board threats, such as terrorists, hijackers, bombs, or other weapons. These workers are often covert in their operations, meaning they may be dressed and seated like an average passenger to be able to watch for suspicious behavior and surprise a potential attacker. Much of the details of air marshal jobs are classified to protect national security, such as their exact number and identities, routes, and training procedures. The basics of their job, however, are much like that of a Secret Service agent. They must be attentive to all activity that goes on around them, identify potential threats to security, and deal with dangerous individuals or objects once exposed on board. The main difference between air marshals and other security agents is they must be trained and able to handle possible warfare in a confined space at 30,000 feet in the air.

Another airport security job of high importance is that of security director. These workers, hired by the federal government, are responsible for all security personnel within an airport. They oversee the hiring, training, and work of baggage and passenger screeners, air marshals, and other security guards. In the nation's largest airports, such as JFK in New York City or O'Hare in Chicago, directors are in charge of hundreds of workers. Because of the high level of responsibility held by these workers, security directors often have previous experience in crisis management or law enforcement, such as police chiefs or military officers.