EDITORIALS

A Better Way to Fly

Posted March 17, 2011, at 7:24 p.m.
Last modified March 18, 2011, at 2:24 a.m.

Here’s a novel idea: Don’t treat everyone who boards an airplane like a terrorist.

That’s the recommendation of a report called “A Better Way.” It was written by the U.S. Travel Association and the Blue Ribbon Panel for Aviation Security. The panel was put together by the industry association, so it would be easy to dismiss as an attempt to simply make travelling easier so the industry could make more money. Except that one of its co-chairs is Tom Ridge, the first head of the Department of Homeland Security and a man not known for downplaying the threat to America after the 9-11 attacks.

“Each day in the United States, roughly two million air travelers are advised to arrive upwards of two hours before a flight in order to be processed through a one-size-fits-all security screening system,” the report begins. “Each traveler must present their identification for verification, take off any coats, remove their shoes, pull out their cell phone, unpack their laptop, unhook their belt, unsnap their watch, place their liquids in a clear plastic bag, and place all of their personal effects on a conveyer belt. Then, every man, woman and child goes barefoot through a screening device and then tries to reassemble their belongings before the crush of passengers further backs up the screening line.”

This system has prevented successful terrorist attacks on and using airplanes, the group acknowledges. But, “the country that put a man on the moon, invented the Internet and creates daily innovations in manufacturing can and must do better,” the report says.

To do better, the panel wisely urged the development of a “trusted traveler” program that would ease screening for these people so that security personnel could focus on those who truly pose risks. This is long overdue.

Requiring everyone to go through the checklist cited above, while people on terrorist watch lists and who fit the profile of terrorists are allowed to board planes only to try to blow them up (Remember the underwear bomber, whose father warned U.S. officials about his son’s radicalization?), does little to reassure the travelling public that the government knows what it is doing when it comes to fighting terrorism.

The full-body scanner debacle — “Don’t touch my junk!” — only heightened the public’s frustration.

Instead, Mr. Ridge offers this sage advice: “If you want to find a needle in a haystack, you shrink the haystack.”

Members of Congress — eager to avert a terrorist attack — are likely to be wary of easing current restrictions. But, this group offers a good way forward.

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