“Laptop? Liquids?” For passengers, the roll call of airport security has become almost routine. Decant, unpack, shoes off, belt off, coat off, re-pack, coat on ... where did I put my boarding pass and passport again? But for Kevin Moden, Security Team Leader at Gatwick Airport, no two shifts are the same.
He joined Gatwick 26 years ago, working on the front line of the airport’s security after completing an apprenticeship in engineering. Today, a team of 18 staff reports to him and he is responsible for making sure that security is watertight and up-to-date – a serious challenge given the unpredictable, ever-changing modern terrorist threat – and that the flow of passengers remains manageable on days that can see up to 73,000 people pass through the gates.
“My job has changed hugely since 9/11. We are on the front line, so we’re constantly being trained according to the level of threat. I don’t think we’ve ever been more prepared. But more recently we’ve been concentrating on trying to make the customer experience more friendly.”
When he’s working with his team on the floor, his shift starts at 4am, but he’ll arrive at 3.15am to look back at passenger flow figures and any unusual situations from the night before. He’ll then brief his team. He’s there to monitor standards and support the staff with queries and what he refers to as “situations” until his shift ends at 1pm.
These tend to be confusion over the liquids, gels and pastes rule, which he explains is the most common reason for hold-ups. Now they try and address any confusion before people get as far as the scanners. But situations can get a lot more interesting than that. “I once noticed someone looking a bit uncomfortable as they passed through, so we pulled them aside for a search. We found a pet hamster in her bra. We got a container for it and called a family member who was able to come and collect it.”
It’s this focus on customer service, rather than default interrogation, that’s now a priority. “It’s really rewarding if somebody needs help and you’re able to provide it,” he explains. This has even extended to him giving passengers a lift in his car and members of his team putting others up overnight when flights have been cancelled as a result of heavy snow.
The misconception of security being an unfriendly process is gradually being redressed. Moden and his team make sure people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. “We never used to receive written compliments; now we’re getting more and more – I take that as a real sign of our success.”