Fmr. CEO of American Airlines Calls Full-Body Scanners in Airports a 'Waste of Resources'

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," January 6, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Authorities in Dublin are trying to get to the bottom of an incident in which live explosives made it on to a passenger plane. Have you heard about this? Only, this really wasn't about terrorism. Get this. This was actually a security test.

Apparently, a passenger unwittingly carried real bomb parts in his luggage from a flight from Slovakia — the pilot deciding to fly even after being told an explosive was in the checked luggage. Generally, that is not good. The incident comes as the president prepares to release a review of airline security tomorrow. But will that review go far enough?

Exclusive reaction now from airline industry legend Bob Crandall, the former CEO of AMR, the parent of American Airlines.

Robert, good to have you. Happy new year.


CAVUTO: Very good.

What do you make, first off, of this airport incident in Ireland? I mean, we have seen a lot of this kind of stuff going on lately. Do you feel safe flying?

CRANDALL: Oh, I feel safe enough, Neil.

But I just think we're doing lots of things wrong. Maybe the first thing we're doing wrong is, we're paying way too much attention to the things that go on an airplane, and we're not paying not nearly enough attention to the people.

We're not executing well. We're not differentiating between low-risk and high-risk, and we're not using technology very effectively. And for all those reasons, the system isn't nearly as good as it should be and could be.

CAVUTO: Still, I guess the latest salvation for us are these so- called body scanners that show you in your complete birthday suit and all of that. And that seems to be the solution for a lot of folks.

CRANDALL: No. Well, I think...

CAVUTO: What do you think of that?

CRANDALL: I think, look, the body scanners, in the first place, you can't use today's body scanners, because they take 40 to 50 seconds per person. There aren't enough body scanners. And if you tried to body scan everybody, you would simply diminish the ability of the airline system to operate.

Now, there's nothing wrong with body scanners.

CAVUTO: We should say that the scanner's maker says that that figure's overstated. It would add at best a half-a-minute. But you're quite right.


CAVUTO: If you add all of that together times the number of people waiting, it's substantial.

But continue.

CRANDALL: Well, but the real — I think the real issue, Neil, is this. Most of the people that go through security don't need a full body scan.

Certainly, if we had a trusted traveler program, where people had been with a — had been — gotten a thorough examination, a background check before they got to the airport, we don't need to put those people through a body scanner.

What we need to do is, we need to differentiate between those people who are a risk and those people who are unlikely to be a risk. Let's put the high-risk people through the body scanners. That — now we will have enough body scanners, and, in fact, we will have enough much more expensive body scanners.

You know, a body scanner is about $150,000. An X-ray machine is about $10,000. You're not going to use — you cannot useful full body scanning on everything. And doing so is silly. It's just a waste of resources and a waste of money.

If you look what the Israelis do, the Israelis use layered security, four or five layers of security, all of it focused on the people, not on the things. And they use technology. For example, if they see a bag that might have a bomb in it, they put it in a bomb box.

If in fact they spot a bag at the ticket counter that might have a bomb in it, they're encapsulated within an area. They don't have to evacuate the whole terminal, the way we did at Newark the other day.


CAVUTO: Yes, another thing they do, they check all incoming luggage, Bob. We don't do that, I mean, and even to this day.

CRANDALL: They check incoming luggage.

CAVUTO: So — so...

CRANDALL: Well, the fact of the...

CAVUTO: So, go ahead.

CRANDALL: The fact of the matter is, they — look, they run it very efficiently. Their objective is to get you — from the time you enter the terminal, you're finished with security in 30 minutes. We can learn a lot from the Israelis. We probably cannot do it exactly the same way.

CAVUTO: But we have a lot more people. We have a lot more people.

CRANDALL: Of course we have a lot more people. But we also have a lot more people at the airports.

And we — most of the money that we are spending at the airports, in my view, is not being spent very effectively. We need to differentiate between high-risk people and low-risk people. Some people call it profiling. I think it is only appropriate. It's absolutely true, as you and I both know, that all Muslims — indeed, most Muslims — are not terrorists.

But it is true that virtually all terrorists have been Muslims. The consequence is, we need to begin to look at who's a risk and who isn't a risk. Putting a 7-year-old child, putting my wife, for example, through intense — the same intense level of security intensity that goes with somebody that just came back from Afghanistan is, in my view, not very sensible.

CAVUTO: All right. By the way, you have not met my 7-year-old, Bob, so you would think twice about not screening him.


CAVUTO: But let me — let me — let me step back on this notion economically what it means for the industry, because a lot of people who might still feel safe, as you do, flying cite the hassle factor, and say, you know, I don't want to get to the airport like three or four or five hours early. I might as well just walk to my destination.

You know, I'm joking here, but the point is that the headache factor is building again, and it could hurt the industry just as it's coming out of its — its bad time.

CRANDALL: Well, not only could it hurt the industry, Neil. It could hurt the whole economy.

Look, the ability to move around within the United States depends on a viable airline industry. And the fact is that, if we do not make security both more effective and more efficient, if we don't get to the point where you can travel without having to arrive at the airport three hours before the flight's going to take off, a lot of people are going to stay home.

And that's going to have very adverse consequences for the economy as a whole, as well as for the airline business. But I think we need to do a whole lot better. I think we can — we have to expect the government to execute. To learn, for example, that security cameras at Newark Airport weren't even turned on is simply disgraceful.

To believe that the intelligence agencies of the U.S. government cannot work together to use these databases that have been assembled to differentiate between people who can and should not be allowed to fly is simply unacceptable. And I — I simply do not see why we cannot do a very much better job and, at the same time, make travel a satisfactory experience.

CAVUTO: If you were president, would you fire Janet Napolitano?

CRANDALL: Yes. And I would put somebody in that job that knows something about security, that knows something about transportation, and that has — has had experience running very large-scale organizations.

I would go out and recruit Lou Gerstner, for example...

CAVUTO: The former IBM chairman.

CRANDALL: ... to run — to run — yes, absolutely, because Lou knows how to run things, and he knows as much about systems as anybody. And there are lots of good people out there.

CAVUTO: All right.

CRANDALL: I picked Lou only as an example.

CAVUTO: What about you?

CRANDALL: The fact is — well, sure. Why are we putting politicians...

CAVUTO: You would be open to that? No, wait, wait. You would be open to that?

CRANDALL: Of course I would.


CRANDALL: But why do we continually put politicians into jobs they know nothing about, instead of selecting experienced managers to run very large-scale administrative organizations?

And I think the answer is that it doesn't seem to matter much to the government whether these organizations run efficiently or not. And it should.

CAVUTO: Robert Crandall, thank you very, very much.

CRANDALL: My pleasure, Neil. Good to see you.

CAVUTO: Same here. Bob Crandall, the former head of American Airlines.

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