WASHINGTON – Transportation experts are evaluating again security at the nation's airports after Thursday's fatal shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, and attention is now focusing on security before the terminal check points.
Security improvements following the Sept. 11 attacks focused on the airplanes themselves as well as the passengers and baggage that get on them, but after Thursday's shooting in which a U.S. resident of Egyptian origin walked up to an Israeli El Al airline ticket counter and killed two ticket agents, lawmakers are considering more security in the airports' main areas.
Right now, the perimeter of security is to prevent anybody from getting on that plane," said Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn. "Up until that point in time, people don't go through security screening. I think that we need to take a look at that."
House aviation subcommittee chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., suggested more armed security officers stationed at airline ticket counters. An armed El Al security officer killed the shooter.
"We can't be cordoning off half of America," Mica said. "You have to put in place the best security with armed personnel to respond. There's nothing like the firepower of a weapon to respond to a terrorist act."
But air safety experts say no matter how far back you move the security perimeter, the public will always be vulnerable.
"We have to be sure that we're not jumping to conclusions, spending a lot of time, a lot of manpower and quite frankly, multiplying the inconvenience by taking an action that might, in the long run, prove unnecessary," said Susan Coughlin, former vice chairwoman at the National Transportation Safety Board.
Officials at the Transportation Safety Administration, a department that came into existence a few months ago, say they will look at the need to increase terminal security in light of the LAX shooting.
But while baggage and passenger screeners are scheduled to be federal employees by the end of the year, security of the ticketing areas will continue to be the responsibility of the airlines. And as long as ticket terminals remain open to the public, they remain open to the same dangers of any public place in America.
"We've seen it at McDonald's. We've seen it on the highways. We've seen in banks. We've seen it at the U.S. Capitol a number of years ago ... and while it's a concern, I think we have to be careful that we don't jump to conclusions that this is part of the terrorist battle that we're fighting," Coughlin said.
"I've heard it described as the pizza shop syndrome," Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner said Friday. "The fact that someone walked into a pizza shop in Jerusalem with a bomb doesn't mean you instantly close down all the pizza shops."
At this point, airport officials in major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Miami and Washington say no additional security measures were taken due to the Los Angeles shooting, but they have been hearing other warnings.
The government has urged airline pilots to be very careful with their uniforms and identification badges. A spokesman for the Transportation Department said it has received reports that some pilots' hotel rooms had been broken into and their uniforms and identification badges stolen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.