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Keith Alexander

Frequent Fliers Call for Better Air Security

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page E01

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI concluded in a recent report that the nation's airlines were still vulnerable to terrorist attacks despite the government's expenditure of more than $12 billion on security enhancements.

The news comes as no surprise to many frequent fliers who responded to a BizClass inquiry last week. The travelers -- routinely subjected to intense scrutiny at the checkpoints -- say they have little confidence in security procedures. Although they are already forced to remove their shoes, endure inspection by hand wands and accept other forms of screening, many passengers said they didn't think the measures went far enough.

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J. Muir Macpherson of Austin said travelers should be forced to present more identification than just a driver's license. "Checking driver's licenses is a joke because they are so easy to forge," said Macpherson, an assistant professor of management at the University of Texas.

Christy Visher, a justice policy research assistant for the District-based Urban Institute, said she would have more confidence in airport security if the government regularly tested the effectiveness of security and made those findings public. Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Amy von Walter said airport screeners are randomly tested and those who fail are retrained. But the government has no plans to make those tests public. "It would not be appropriate to share those results with the public," von Walter said.

Some travelers said they wished that tougher measures were in place to protect against shoulder-fired missiles and that aircraft cargo were subjected to the same inspections as passengers' bags.

Daryl Ames of Alexandria said airline pilots and flight attendants should receive self-defense training, a precaution sought by labor unions representing flight attendants.

Some frequent fliers say their confidence in airport security diminishes when they see children and senior citizens subjected to secondary screening.

Karen Przytulski, 50, and her 17-year-old daughter were searched by airport security before they boarded a recent flight to Amsterdam. Przytulski said the wrong travelers are being stopped by airport security and that causes her to think the entire system is vulnerable.

"I know they try to prevent racial profiling, but sometimes this is exactly what makes the only sense," she said.

However, several airlines have been sued for racial profiling by Arab American groups. And security officials remember only too well that a U.S. citizen, John Walker Lindh, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing support to al Qaeda and aiding the Taliban.

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