Staff Editorial: Security in the sky

Working long hours in a repetitive job with little pay and even less respect will dull the edge of even the sharpest employee. Such conditions exist at the security checkpoints in American airports creating a weakness in the system that is supposed to protect millions of airline passengers each year. Those conditions must be improved.

The air travel security system failed tragically and spectacularly Sept. 11 and led to many new restrictions in the wake of the terrorist attacks that appear to have killed more than 6,000 people at The World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Some reports indicate that at least two of the men who hijacked four planes at three airports slipped through security at a smaller, less hectic airport and then flew to a larger hub where they changed over to the planes they would later commandeer. These facts clearly illustrate the need for uniform security procedures at airports across the country. Sneaking contraband onto an aircraft should be as difficult in Peoria, Ill., as it is in Atlanta.

Experts compare the employees of companies contracted to provide security in airports to fast food workers. The wages and benefits are not much different, and an attitude emphasizing speed over quality of work prevails in both industries. But when failure means hijacked aircraft and dead passengers, Americans can no longer afford to sacrifice safety for convenience. The men and women monitoring the X-ray machines and metal detectors in American airports should be better paid and better trained. Currently they are private-sector employees without the authority to make arrests. Filling positions at airport security checkpoints with armed, highly trained, well-paid federal police officers demonstrates the full weight of the U.S. government is behind their actions.

Air travel is already heavily regulated by the federal government. The Federal Aviation Administration sets rules for everything from the maximum number of continuous hours a pilot can fly to the size of airplane seats. Planes routinely cross several state borders on each flight – a perfect example of interstate commerce. To expect 50 states to use their differing systems of laws and law enforcement to create a seamless security network is unreasonable. The federal government should ensure the safety of air travel and should provide for the employees who will detect and deter future terrorist actions.

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