‘Work really kills any life’: secrets of a UK airport security guard | Air industry
Unsocial working hours, long standing days and impatient and sometimes unpleasant passengers. Such is the life of an airport security guard.
Their role is to screen passengers and their baggage before boarding and they are essential to ensure the safety and proper functioning of an airport. But the work is not well paid and airports are struggling to recruit enough people to outfit x-ray machines and metal detectors as air travel rebounds from Covid.
As airports get busier and lines get longer to clear security, those on the front lines are under pressure.
Today, a security officer who worked for several years in the terminal at Stansted Airport, located in north-east London, came forward to share behind the scenes of the job. The Guardian protects his identity because it is his only job.
He currently works two long shifts a week, mostly weekends, with very early starts to handle morning rush hours.
“They can’t keep people. But it is hard work. Usually we start work at 4am, so getting up at 2am to get to work is a killer. Of course you have to go to bed early so it really kills all life,” the man, who is in his 50s, told the Guardian.
He earns £14 an hour and brings in around £1,200 a month.
Working as a team, a group of colleagues huddle around an X-ray machine. Passengers are greeted and then asked to take their belongings out of their pockets, put them and their bags in a plastic bin to be checked.
Passengers pass through a metal detector and if necessary, they are searched.
Each security guard is only allowed to sit in front of the x-ray machine, watching the screen for a maximum of 20 minutes. Yet this is often the only time in their shift that a security officer can sit, except for brief tea breaks.
“The problem we have is the lack of staff,” he said. “The last two times I went there, we came to the end of our shift and there was no one to replace us. We had to close the lane gates and walk away.
“It was particularly bad a few weeks ago. We left the machine full of bags, loads of people queuing to get in, we just had to shut the machine down and walk away,” he said , adding that managers had to scramble to find workers to take over.
The security guard believes a current understaffing is preventing Stansted from opening enough security lanes, leading to long queues, or passenger ‘snakes’, and more people missing their flights.
“When the machine is full of trays to be searched, the machine stops and nobody passes, which stops the whole procedure and the snakes become incredibly long. You can hear people screaming from the tracks; they miss their flight. passengers are quite often in tears, which is not pleasant.
Around half of Stansted terminal security guards have voluntarily left during the pandemic, as part of airport owner Manchester Airports Group’s plans to cut costs while planes remain grounded by the Covid travel restrictions.
The group plans to hire around 300 people to fill vacancies, with announcements of new hires on the London Underground urging them to “impact countless passengers”, while promising that all training is included and that no experience is required.
Among the incentives designed to attract potential workers are an 80% discount on bus and train journeys to the airport, as well as a free bus from north London for employees who start work before the start of public transport.
A spokesman for London Stansted said the airport had received an “excellent” response to its recruitment drive, with many applicants already going through vetting and training. They said the airport was “confident that we will have the terminal security officers we need to run a full flight schedule this summer.”
The security guard thinks that he and his colleagues would feel more valued if they earned more for doing their important work.
“They could do all the jobs tomorrow if they paid people more money. It all comes down to the fact that they won’t pay more wages. They decided it was a low-paying job,” he said. he declared, “If I could, I would leave tomorrow.