Congress mulls tightened security for checked baggage
By Patty Davis
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- New and tougher screening measures for carry-on baggage do not apply to checked bags, an exemption that some members of Congress and relatives of Pan Am 103 victims would like to change.
The most recent crackdown on carry-on baggage includes heightened screening, a prohibition on cutting instruments, and a new one-bag carry-on limit. But the requirements are different, and some say deficient, when it comes to checked bags.
"Right now we do not have adequate measures of safety because 90 to 95 percent of those bags are unscreened in the belly of an airplane," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Washington.
The Federal Aviation Administration declined to say how many checked bags are screened, but said the number has increased since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
A U.S. House bill would require all baggage, mail and cargo carried in an aircraft to be examined by bomb-screening machines.
Families of those who died when Pan Am 103 was brought down by a terrorist bomb hidden in a piece of checked luggage have pushed for such a requirement for years.
Victoria Cummock lost her husband John.
"We're leaving the back door unlocked and wide open if we're not looking at what's being checked," Cummock said. Right now the FAA and airlines rely on random screening and computer-assisted passenger screening to decide which bags should be screened, based on a profile of suspicious behavior.
But terrorists can get around that, Cummock said.
"The profiling is done based on the identification that you give when you check in your bags, so you are relying on the honesty of the passenger to identify themselves as a potential risk," she said.
Cummock worries that bags are not matched to their owners on domestic flights as they are on international ones, meaning unaccompanied bags find their way onto U.S. flights.
The airline industry does not advocate either bag matching or 100 percent checked bag screening, saying it would slow down air travel and would not have stopped the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But the families of Pan Am 103 said now is the time to take action on all fronts, and be prepared for any type of terrorist attack.
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