As if travelers didn”t have enough to gripe about already with the lengthy waits at airports, airline officials warn that those delays are about to get a bit longer starting tomorrow, when new security measures mandating the screening of all checked luggage take effect.

The new Aviation and Transportation Act is implementing these measures as the first step of a policy that will require airlines to screen all checked luggage will full explosive detection systems by the end of this year. Only 10 percent of the 1.4 billion bags checked each year are presently subjected to screening.

The new law allows airlines to use a combination of four screening methods, said Hank Price, public relations coordinator for the newly-created Transportation Security Administration. These methods include bag matching, manual search, bomb sniffing dogs, explosive detection devices and others approved by the TSA, he said.

But the Federal Aviation Association reports that there are only 160 explosive detection machines and 190 bomb-sniffing dogs at the nation”s 50 busiest airports. Because hand checking luggage is time-consuming and subject to human error, airlines will rely on bag matching as the most realistic way of meeting the new standards.

Under the bag matching procedure, every piece of checked luggage is matched to a passenger that has boarded the plane. Any baggage that does not correspond to a person on the flight must be removed before the plane can leave the gate. In theory, this method will deter potential terrorists from walking away after checking a suitcase that contains a bomb.

The problem arises when people check their bags and then go out to have a cigarette or miss their flights for some other reason, said Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesman Len Singer. The bags must be identified and removed from the plane and then held until someone claims them.

“It is this final step in the process, when the flight is getting ready to leave, where I think the most delays will take place,” Singer said.

Frequent flier Charlie Corbin, branch manager of STA Travel, adds that bag matching will not prevent any suicidal person from checking their bomb-laden suitcase and boarding the plane.

Corbin, who has flown both domestically and internationally since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, is not looking forward to flying to San Francisco in two weeks.

“It doesn”t sound like the airlines are prepared to meet the new regulations yet,” he said. “Everyone just isn”t on the same page. Hub cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York may be OK, but small cities are just not equipped.”

Although security reasons prevent airlines from disclosing the specific details of their plans to meet the new standards, Jim Light, director of corporate security at Spirit Airlines, is confident that the airlines are in good shape.

“In an effort to meet the December 31 deadline, security measures have gotten more thorough every week every day, even. It”s not going to be like the good old days where you can throw your bag on the conveyor belt,” he said.

Despite the hassle the security standards will create, Corbin still plans on traveling often.

“I guess I”ll just have to take my chances. But I wish security would use more common sense. I see them checking people wearing penny loafers but not stopping people wearing hiking boots. What are you going to put in a penny loafer?”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.