Ted Kennedy, the senator, revealed the other day that airline officials got him mixed up with "Ted Kennedy the Terrorist."

When the senator tried to buy an airline ticket, his name popped up in the Homeland Security database as "Ted Kennedy the Terrorist," and the US Airways agent refused to sell him a ticket.

Even though the senator has been on television countless times, and has represented the great state of Massachusetts since 1962, the agent insisted he was only following orders not to let anyone with the name "Ted Kennedy" fly.

They stopped the senator on five separate occasions.

I have known Sen. Kennedy for years, and although he is a liberal, he is not a terrorist. I have flown on planes with him and I can swear there isn't a terrorist bone in his body.

So he has raised the question: What good is the Homeland Security "no fly" list?

Go to your telephone books and see how many Ted Kennedys are listed. Some are Democrats, some are Republicans and some are independents, but all might be listed as "no fly" when they get to the airport.

To get his ticket each time, the senator had to talk to the supervisor, who then explained to the agents that it was okay to let this Kennedy go through the gate.

By the way, "Kennedy the Terrorist" is still at large and rumor has it he is on an Amtrak train to Chicago.

The senator has raised an important point that people with common names, such as Smith, Stewart, Stevens and Doe, may all be in the Homeland Security database, even if they did nothing wrong. Unlike Kennedy the legislator, they can't just call the supervisor and prove they are not on the payroll of Osama bin Laden.

Obviously, Homeland Security big shots have promised to look into the matter, but nobody knows how to fix it so only good people and not bad people are able to get on the plane.

There are a few solutions. Suppose you are George Stevens, but not the George Stevens the security people are looking for. If you can prove it, you will get 5,000 frequent-flier miles and fly in business class, if it's available.

Flying is a right guaranteed in the Constitution. Sam and John Adams never had the trouble Teddy Kennedy did. They flew aboard US Airways from Boston to Philadelphia, except in bad weather, when they went by horse-drawn carriage.

Based on Kennedy's experience, I went up to the US Airways counter and said, "I'm flying to Washington. Are you going to search me?"

"Your name hasn't come up in the database, but take off your shoes anyway."

I said, "I'm a friend of Teddy Kennedy's."

"The senator or the terrorist?"

"The senator, and he is going to attach a rider to the health care bill that says a person who finds himself mistakenly on the 'no fly' list can sue Homeland Security for $100,000."

The agent said, "Fine, but stick your arms out and give Senator Kennedy our regards."

(c)2004, Tribune Media Services