More than nine years after the airborne attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, airport security is a mess - especially in the United States, where the attacks using highjacked jetliners took place.
Everyone is frustrated, and it's easy to see why.
For travelers, the inconsistency in airport security rules - even within one country, let alone between countries - is maddening. An air traveler never knows what to expect: Take off the shoes, or leave them on? Take out the laptop or don't? Leave the belt on or whip it off and put it in the plastic bin? Some security experts say this is part of a conscious strategy - i.e., confounding would-be terrorists by never letting them know what the security proceedures will bein place. But this is not terribly convincing to this frequent traveler. I suspect a good part of the inconsistency we see stems not from strategy but from confusion, ineptitude, the failure of authorities to talk to one another and simple disregard for travelers - in marketingspeak, "customers.''
Airlines are frustrated, too. This week, British Airways Chairman Martin Broughton lashed out at what he called "completely redundant'' security measures at airports, such as taking out laptop computers and taking off shoes for separate inspections. He also criticized U.S. authorities for imposing increased checks of passengers on U.S.-bound international flights that are not required on U.S. domestic flights. Travelers from 14 countries deemed hostile to the U.S. are, for example, singled out for extra attention at U.S. airports.
In the air, as well as on the ground, the alleged savvy of aviation security is suspect. Within the U.S., air marshals made news recently when it was suggested they should sit throughout the plane instead of clustering, as they do now, in first class. The rugged protectors of the public demurred. They want to keep their seats in first class, they said.
But I digress. We were talking about airports.
The BBC News Web site www.bbc.co./uk quotes Chris Yates, a U.K. aviation security analyst, as saying increasingly sophisticated machines can now be used to phase out some security measures. "We could be talking about getting rid of the shoe check,'' BBC News quotes Yates as saying, "because the metal detectors at airports are sensitive enough to pick up the metal strap in my leather shoe, so they should be able to detect whatever might else be hidden in the heel of that shoe.''
If that is true, such technology should be introduced as quickly as possible. Moreover, security experts should talk directly to one another and connect the dots to safeguard travelers. At nine years and counting, millions of air travelers have waited long enough for smart aviation security.