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Even-handedness must be observed in airport security checks

Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has drawn the attention of Finavia Corporation and its oversight authority the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi) to the importance of observing equality in airport security checks. These checks are public administrative tasks and there must not be significant differences between various groups of passengers with regard to the speed at which they are conducted and the standard of service involved in them. 

The express lanes for security checks at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport had been criticised in a complaint received by the Ombudsman as possibly being contrary to the requirement of equal treatment. 

Two "Priority Lanes"

Finavia Corporation is a State-owned enterprise, which is responsible for the upkeep of and security at airports as well as for security checks of passengers.  Two of the 18 security check lanes at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport are so-called Priority Lanes. They are meant for Finnair and the Blue1 airline's club cardholders and business class passengers. 

The Ombudsman deemed security checks to be the discharge of a public administrative task, whereby inter alia the Administrative Procedure Act and principles of good administration must be observed. These include a general requirement to treat clients even-handedly.

The Ombudsman considers it problematic from the perspective of equality that in security checks people are divided into different groups on the basis of whether or not they are customers of a particular airline or the price they have paid for their ticket.

"If certain persons can, either by paying with money or on the basis of their status as a customer with benefits, receive better public service than others, the arrangements can be regarded as contrary to the requirement of even-handedness in administration," he points out.

According to a report received by the Ombudsman from Finavia Corporation, the security checking measures conducted in the priority lanes are no different from those done in the other lanes, and there are no significant differences between times spent queuing in the various lanes at the moment.
On the basis of this information, the Ombudsman takes the view that there is no ground for him to intervene in Finavia's practice of concluding separate agreements with airlines concerning security checks of their passengers who enjoy special benefits.

More precise guidelines for civil aviation

The Ombudsman points out that it has emerged in the course of oversight of legality that personnel in the aviation sector are not always aware of what tasks belong in the public administrative category. This is problematic from the perspective of protection under the law of both customers and workers.

"The exercise of public power is coupled with official responsibility in the manner provided for in Chapter 40 of the Criminal Code. Also in the discharge of another public administrative task, it is important that the person performing it is aware that the guarantees of good administration that are already enshrined in the Constitution extend to his or her activities.

For this reason, the Ombudsman asked the Ministry of Transport and Communications for a statement on whether the public service tasks performed by Finavia Corporation and other comparable actors are regulated with sufficient precision in legislation.

He recommended that consideration be given to how legislation covering the sector should be clarified to ensure that public administrative tasks are specified as unambiguously as possible in the legislation. It would be possible to draft guidelines on the matter already on the basis of the existing legislation.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Riitta Länsisyrjä, tel. +358 (0)9 4321.