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Common Sense Airline Security?

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AirportMarch 13, 2007

Two items in the news recently underscored — in fact, screamed — for common sense and intelligence when it comes to airline and airport security.

News item number one: The idiot who shoved various metallic items into a bodily orifice and then tried to pass through security at LAX.

The good news: he was stopped and detained. When authorities removed the items — gingerly, I presume — they discovered that none of them were illegal or dangerous. But his actions were certainly disruptive.

And the scream for common sense and intelligence? While the idiot was detained, the flight on which he was ticketed took off — with his checked-in luggage on board. When it was discovered that his bags had not been removed, the plane made an emergency landing en route.

What’s totally crazy about this?

The lack of positive passenger-to-bag matching, something the airlines have been promising they’ve been doing for years. Remember December 21, 1988?

A bag was placed aboard a flight that did not belong to any passenger. It transferred in Frankfurt to another flight headed for London, and was transferred again, this time to Pan Am 103.

And then, at 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland, it blew up, killing all aboard and 11 more on the ground.

In the wake of that act of terrorism, airlines around the world announced a positive bag matching procedure. From that point on, we were told, no passenger could check in for a flight, and then — for whatever reason — decide not to board that plane without his or her luggage being offloaded before the plane left the gate.

The presumption is that this procedure has been followed for the past 19 years. As the Los Angeles incident revealed, that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, since more passengers are being forced to check in more luggage, airlines have managed to lose, misplace, damage or delay more bags than ever. And what that means is that thousands and thousands of bags that are misconnecting… and a misconnect means, by definition, that there is no positive bag matching of any nature being practiced.

Item number two: While passengers cannot get to gate areas without being screened, hundreds of thousands of airport workers — more than 900,000 to be exact — are still not being screened.

This was evidenced recently when a number of these workers were caught after they smuggled weapons into Puerto Rico.

Am I missing something here? Did someone not get the memo? You can’t have selective bag matching, and you can’t have selective access screening and continue to insist our airports and skies are safe.

In each case, economic forces are driving the decisions not to implement intelligent, common sense policies. Airports, airlines and governments don’t want to pay.

But as we’ve learned all too often, we can either pay now, or pay much more, with much higher consequences later. It’s time we insisted on security that is intelligently and uniformly applied by people who are also given the freedom and flexibility to think.

We must never forget that terrorists always choose the path of least resistance. Why make it so easy for them?

For more on airport security, check out “My Middle Initial is Not ‘SSSS’ “.

And don’t miss the latest from Peter’s blog, the Travel Detective Files.

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