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Is the Airport Screening Process Securing us or Hassling us?

Aired June 19, 2003 - 20:33   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Talking about airport security now. It seems like the security procedures are different every time you go to the airport. Security gates along with metal detectors and guards seem to be everywhere. The shoe scans, requests to undo your belt buckle can be embarrassing but people are usually pretty good natured about it. I know I am.
In the past months security guards have seized 1.4 million knives, nearly 40,00 box cutters, 1,100 firearms and countless razors and nail files. But are we really more secure or just more hassled? Joining us from Washington, Robert Johnson, he's director of communications for the Transportation Security Administration. And in San Francisco, airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt. He's a principle analyst with Forester Research.

Gentlemen, appreciate you joining us. Henry, now you say things are getting better in terms of airport security, but some big problems remain. What do you think they are?

HENRY HARTEVELDT, AIRLINE SECURITY INDUSTRY ANALYST: Well I think that you outlined it at the beginning. You've got a lot of inconsistency at airports.

For example, here at San Francisco International Airport passengers who go and fly on American Airlines have a totally different type of screening process than those who fly out of the same concourse, same terminal on United. If you're flying on American, you have to show your I.D. and are subject to at-gate checks prior to boarding. If you fly United,where the TSA is in place doing the screening, you show your I.D. only at the beginning when you go through the screening and you don't have to show it again.

COOPER: All right, let's ask Robert about that. Robert, what do you say? Why -- if there is inconsistency, why is there?

ROBERT JOHNSON, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: Well, actually, it is more consistent now than ever before because there's one company managing that now and it's TSA. Before, there were lots of different screening companies trying to do that work. Our screeners are better trained, they've all been given the same equipment, we're upgrading the equipment so it's getting better in that regard also. And overall, the consistency is there.

(CROSSTALK) JOHNSON: But there are two things I need to point out. One is we have said all along we're still a work in progress. And so we have work that still needs to be done and we'll probably always be headed that direction because the threats and the intelligence change.

And that's the last point, Anderson, is that as we get more to a system that's based on the threats and intelligence we receive, we may be doing security one way at one airport based on what we know or believe to be a threat, and another way somewhere else because maybe the threat is greater or less there.

So that's where we're headed. It's not a one size fits all world when it comes to this business. We're really trying to be threat- based and manage that risk specifically to where those issues are and how they ought to be treated.

COOPER: Henry, what are you hearing from passengers? I mean it seems most people I fly with people relatively OK with inconsistencies, with the delays that they may face.

HARTEVELDT: Actually, today I received a phone call from somebody aboard a flight from Oakland Airport where the backup to clear security was more than an hour and the flight was being delayed leaving Oakland. The fact is that in our research, about 20 percent of business travelers say they have cut back on business travel because of airport screening hassles.

COOPER: So are you saying there should be a minimum amount of time to get through security?

HARTEVELDT: I think that the TSA initially set out with a very, very good customer-friendly goal, that you would never wait more than ten minutes in line to clear security. And I think that is an important goal, especially as the airline industry tries to lure back business travelers, in particular on short haul flying where they've seen a huge fall-off.

COOPER: Robert, you know you've no doubt heard complaints from people who say, all of a sudden an 80-year-old grandmother will be pulled aside and given a very extensive search, and someone much younger and perhaps more of a suspect, potential suspect, might be let through. What's your response?

JOHNSON: Well, unfortunately, Anderson, terrorists don't really leave any one particular demographic alone. They've been known to use their relatives, whether they're 5-years-old or 80-years-old in the pursuit of their goal, which is to wreak havoc upon innocent people.

So unfortunately, we have to try to treat everyone the same and maintain a random approach to this. That is, anyone could be screened additionally at any time. Our goal is to make sure that the flight is safe.

And there was a national poll recently that was done by a national publication which indicated that three out of four Americans do feel safer flying and they're willing to spend that little bit of extra time it takes to make sure they get where they're going.

COOPER: All right, let's leave there. Robert Johnson, Henry Harteveldt, appreciate you joining us, thanks.



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