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Airports: The High Price Of Our Insecurity

(September 11, 2002)

Since the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, many travelers have had one question on their minds-how can we make our skies safer? The answer to that question can be found in the focus on the nation's airports. In just one year, unprecedented times have led to unprecedented changes in airport security.


Last November, the newly created federal agency, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), began handling airport security operations previously controlled by private companies. The TSA will not only hire federal employees to guard parked airplanes on the ground, it will also add more undercover air marshals aboard planes to protect the flying public. The TSA expects to take over safety issues at all of the nation's 429 airports by this November. Why the change? Terrorists are still at large.


In response to that threat, security at American airports is going high-tech. Besides new technology for screening baggage and detecting explosive material, one big change is software that runs on the airline's reservation system. Called Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), this program selects passengers whose carry-on and checked bags will require additional security screening. CAPPS also selects passengers at random, which helps to ensure passengers' civil liberties by guaranteeing that no individual or group of individuals is automatically targeted from the selection process.

Insecurity Consequences

So, what does this mean for air travelers? Plenty. While long lines at airports are becoming more manageable; the costs for new security are not. When it comes to defending American security, the price tag is sky-high-some lawmakers and aviation experts say the costs could be up to $10 billion per year. Currently, there is a debate as to whether the current security fees should be doubled. The Air Travelers Association fears higher fees will further hinder air travel, noting passengers are already loaded up with fees. Indeed, taxes are at an all time high:

  • Domestic ticket tax of $7.50.
  • $3-per-person, per-flight segment fee.
  • A maximum of $18 in airport facility charges
  • Security fees at $2.50 per-flight segment.
"On a $200 ticket, air travelers could be looking at almost 25 percent in taxes. If you get a lower-priced ticket, it could almost be 50 percent of the cost," says David Stempler of the Air Travelers Association. "The talk of higher fees has financially hemorrhaging airlines nervous," notes Air Transport Association (ATA) spokesman Michael Wascom. He adds, "Many travelers are cost-conscious consumers when it comes to air travel. This would really be a major financial blow to them and the airlines they fly." Furthermore, it could also be a blow to smaller communities. Stempler notes, "Historically, when airlines suffer financially, they either cut back or eliminate flights entirely from their unprofitable routes. Most often, small or medium-sized communities suffer a higher percentage of reduced or lost service than large cities, causing exaggerated problems for airline passengers in these communities because they often don't have reasonable travel alternatives."

September 11 is likely to be a day of great reflection for many Americans. However, for the traveler, the legacy of this cataclysmic event will be an ongoing reminder at the nation's airports.

Related Sites:

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Air Travelers Association

Air Transport Association

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