Advertisement

A YEAR AFTER | AIR TRAVEL

Technology lags, and problems persist with smuggled weapons despite more screeners

September 11, 2002|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Thousands more sky marshals are flying. Most airport workers have been given criminal background checks. Intelligence sharing is better. At Los Angeles International Airport, 49 lanes are open for screening passengers, up from 42 before the Sept. 11 attacks, with a goal of at least 60.

Yet today's air travel system is still riddled with holes. As of midsummer, federal agents were still sneaking guns and fake bombs past airport screeners on about 25% of the tries.

At the same time, the sight of grandmothers having their knitting needles confiscated annoys travelers, including some in important positions. While experts insist random testing is vital, Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, grumps, "Our passenger profiling is politically correct but also dumb."

Most planned longer-term reforms are troubled. The plan to test every checked bag for explosives means installing hundreds more testing machines that are expensive, not fully reliable and don't exist in sufficient numbers. Congress may have to stretch its Dec. 31 deadline.

Help is a year or more away: A second generation of the computer-assisted passenger pre-screening system could be tested next year. It will merge passenger information with intelligence reports and watch lists. Details are classified, but the system might green-light a business traveler who flies the same routes every month, never changes reservations and always buys a round-trip ticket with a corporate credit card. A warning flag might pop up for a traveler who's moved frequently, visited countries where terrorists operate, abruptly switched flights and paid cash for a one-way ticket.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|