Paying for security

Air travelers who welcome stepped-up security at airports aren't going to like the fact they'll be paying up to $10 more on their tickets.

Blame who you want for security lapses that led to the Sept. 11 attacks -- private security companies, the airlines or the Federal Aviation Administration. All must take some share of the responsibility.

But, as we've come to expect, the people who have no responsibility for airport security -- the passengers -- will be footing the bill. The fees -- $5 for a roundtrip nonstop flight, $10 at most if a passenger must change planes each way -- will raise some $900 million a year for new technology, passenger screeners, law enforcement officers and other security measures.

All these measures, unfortunately, are a reaction to the Sept. 11 events. They are far too late to save the lives lost at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the fourth jet that crashed in Pennsylvania.

And that, more than anything, is what should bother air travelers about having to pay for their own security.

Ten years ago, in the wake of the 1988 terrorist bombing that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism had this to say:

"The FAA and the FBI should work together ... to assess the vulnerability of U.S. airports to the threat of terrorist violence. Additionally, the level of terrorist threat in the United States must be analyzed and monitored on a continuing basis to ensure the proper level of security at domestic airports, and the FAA and FBI should work together to arrive at the most effective method for this to be done.

"The FAA must begin to develop stronger security measures for controls over checked baggage, controls over persons with access to aircraft, testing of security systems, the use of modern X-ray equipment, and the prescreening of passengers. The FAA should initiate immediately the planning and analysis necessary to phase additional security measures into the domestic system over time."

The $900 million collected in passenger fees will be handed to a new federal bureaucracy, the Transportation Security Administration, to do the things the FAA was supposed to be doing a decade ago.

In the case of the Lockerbie crash, the bomb was contained in checked-in baggage, so the focus at the time went there. Now, the focus is on carry-on weapons. But the mode remains the same: React to events of the past rather than attempting to prevent terrorist acts.

Air travelers will be forking over $900 million to a system that has failed in the past and gives no indication it will protect them in the future.


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