Skepticism Remains on New Airport Screeners

Awaiting a flight to Boston, Darlene Ruffin-Alexander had high praise for the new federal screeners at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

She said the screeners "are a little more efficient and certainly more customer-friendly. They are more attentive and not as playful as they have been in the past."

The government met its Tuesday deadline to have more than 47,000 airport security workers in place at 424 airports nationwide. The Transportation Security Administration employees replace a private work force that was often criticized as inefficient, inattentive and poorly trained.

The screeners have been phased in at various airports for the last few months. Congress also set a year-end deadline to screen all checked passenger baggage for explosives.

Many travelers Tuesday said they felt safer with the new screeners in place, but some industry experts remain skeptical.

While he praised the goal of reducing waits at checkpoints to 10 minutes or less, Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell said the system needs to focus more on real threats.

"We have to get away from this fixation on tweezers and tie bars," he said.

Mitchell said his research shows business air travel declined 14 percent in 2001 compared with 2000 and will be down an additional 11 percent this year compared with 2001. He said airlines will need to improve a number of factors other than security to lure back business travelers.

"Taking a trip now is like going to get root canal," he said.

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Henrietta Oetken was traveling home to Arizona with her daughter, Melody Bean.

"It looks like they're taking care of things," Oetken, 78, said as a short line of passengers waited for their luggage to emerge from a truck-sized X-ray explosive detection screener.

Bean, a 38-year-old flight attendant, said passengers sometimes now point out stray bags. She said she feels safer with federal screeners in place.

"I think it's a lot better now, although they have slip-ups now and then," said Bean, who lives in Evans, Colo.

At Boston's Logan International Airport, Jeff Nutting of Dennisport, Mass., was headed to Thailand. He said he suspects there are still lapses in security. "If I were a terrorist, I think I could probably outsmart the system," he said.

Travelers noticed a quicker move through security points at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

"It went easier today than it has in the past," said Kathleen Graichen. "The security check was smoother and faster, and I didn't have as many problems today as I have in the past."

At Philadelphia International Airport, Joe Aiello of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he has noticed a difference at security checkpoints recently.

"They're more professional, courteous," he said. "There are less bag checks — they can read the equipment better."