Airline security measures prove insufficient

Kimberly Jackson

Hijacked suicide plane missions in the United States will not cease despite increased airline security nationwide. This is the testament of al Qaeda, according to major newspaper reports.

An unnamed government official said the chance of another terrorist attack in our country is “100 percent.” Yet last night on television, I saw the results of a poll that said only 32 percent of Americans think the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be on their minds the next time they fly.

Thirty-two percent seems to be unbelievably low. But due to recent security tightening in airports and on planes, Americans are saying they feel safer than ever before. But after flying recently for the first time since the infamous plane hijackings, I must say I felt no safer – not by a long shot.

On Thursday, Oct. 4, after arriving two hours early for my flight per Federal Aviation Administration instruction, I checked my small carry-on bag because I didn’t want to have to deal with the trouble of having it searched in the x-ray line. Also, my e-ticket was not valid simply at the gate – my boarding pass had to be issued at the ticketing counter (another new security measure). I was asked the exact same two routine questions – Have your bags always been in your possession? Have you accepted anything from strangers? – then, my driver’s license was hurriedly checked, and I was sent on my way. My purse wasn’t searched, I wasn’t patted down, no hand-held metal detector was passed over my body. It was 5:20 a.m. I had more than 90 minutes until my flight even boarded.

As I sat back in my molded plastic chair and read a day-old newspaper, I noticed several air-travelers, particularly middle-aged women, were wearing sweatshirts with American flags on them, remembrance ribbons or just all-around patriotic ensembles of red, white and blue.

A flight announcement caught my attention. The voice had a moderate accent and, due to the static garbling from the loudspeaker, could imaginatively be identified as Arabic. Judging from the raised eyebrows and white knuckles I observed in the waiting area, I was not the only one who had the terrorist attacks on my mind.

Once aboard, the pilot reminded us to only make emergency restroom trips and to refrain from congregating near the cockpit area. He also mentioned the airline’s appreciation for our patronization and assured us, tossing aside protocol, we were not in danger of a hijacking due to new “top secret” safety measures.

On my Sunday return flight, a woman in front of me in the security line was carrying a glass-encased painting. Having previously thought all cutting instruments had been banned from flights, I then realized I won’t ever be totally safe on a plane. Everything is a weapon. Had that woman malicious intent, she could have broken the glass that just glided through security and used it in the same way the Sept. 11 hijackers used knives and box cutters.

So on that flight, I quietly asked the flight attendant why exactly glass and mirrors hadn’t been placed on the prohibited-item list. He stared at me for a second and then responded, “I’m not so sure … I don’t really know, ma’am.”

The National Guard was posted at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport when I arrived, though I was not intimidated nor reassured by their presence – any intimidation factor disappeared when not one but two Guards greeted me with a “Good afternoon, darlin’.” Though, as for feeling protected, I realize these troops don’t board flights, so the exact purpose of their role is illogical to me. No one ever hijacked an airport.

One week later, exactly one month after the crashes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I left for Boston’s Logan International Airport – the same airport from which some of the hijacked planes had departed.

My roommate dropped me off curbside, just a few feet from a couple hundred people standing in ticket lines inside. It reminded me there are new restrictions on parking close to the airport terminals and ticketing areas due to possibilities of car bombs, but what about pick-up and drop-off? We have learned some terrorists embrace death as fervently as others embrace life, so what is stopping them from detonating explosives while they are still inside the car, posing as if to drop off a passenger?

The security line was much longer this time due to the fact it was the late afternoon. This time I was selected for a random luggage and person search. I thought perhaps the man in front of me speaking loud Arabic on his cell phone who left the line twice would be more suspicious than a 20-year-old collegiate-looking woman with a backpack, but nevertheless, I easily agreed to having my things searched.

An airline representative opened my bag and patted my shirts, inspected my cell phone and ran his fingers around the lining of the bag. He raised my camera case without opening it and asked me, “Is this a camera?” I nodded and said yes. He put it back in my carry-on, zipped it up and handed back my boarding pass.

I was completely astounded. Why did he even search my things if he was just going to take my word for what was in there anyway? I don’t mind being searched, but if they’re going to go through my things, they should inspect them thoroughly. No one is going to get past security with a machete sitting on top of their packed-away clothes; chances are, the weapons terrorists would bring onboard are going to be small and concealed.

Despite what would make the most sense, Boston Logan’s security didn’t seem to reflect the massive overhaul it supposedly had made. It had all the new measures the other airports did, but I suppose I had expected a lot more from an airport that had to fire its director because of the tragic security breaches last month.

If the American public feels they don’t need to be scared on airlines, that’s fine. But I hope these feelings are due to the “it couldn’t happen to me” syndrome rather than believing airlines are much safer now. The former reason is why I am still flying. One plane takes off from Chicago-O’Hare every minute – and that’s just one airport. The chances of my plane being hijacked are miniscule.

But the reason the public should be scared, a lot more than 32 percent of us at least, is the guarantee made by terrorist groups (and confirmed by our government) hijackings will happen again. And from what I have seen, there isn’t a hell of a lot being done to stop them.


Kimberly Jackson is a Daily senior copy editor. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]