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Airlines to match luggage to flyers

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002

Airlines on Friday will begin ensuring that luggage loaded into the belly of their airplanes belongs to passengers — a security practice intended to better track checked baggage on commercial flights.

The changes have led some observers nationwide to predict long delays at airports. However, others say the changes won't be a problem, especially since airlines already match baggage to passengers on international flights, so the process won't be new, just larger.

US Airways, Pittsburgh International Airport's dominant carrier, did not say which method it intends to use at its hub here or how it plans to meet this week's deadline without causing delays.

"From the customers' viewpoint, the experience should not be much different from their experience today," US Airways spokesman Dave Castelveter said. "As we implement the new security measures, we could see some slight delays. However, we expect those delays to be minimal."

Baggage checks at a glance
  • The Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires airlines to enhance inspections of checked baggage by Friday.

  • Airports must install more explosive-detection equipment used to check all luggage by Dec. 31

  • U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will address aviation security today in Washington, D.C.
  • Kent George, executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, said he does not foresee any glitches, primarily because airlines have assured him they have the situation under control.

    "I don't think it will cause problems in our system, nor have we gotten any indication from the airlines that they'll have any problems implementing the new security requirements on Friday," he said.

    Passengers should continue to arrive 90 minutes to two hours before their flight leaves — the time buffer suggested because of security changes made after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, George said. The Federal Aviation Administration recommended concerned travelers call their airline ahead of time to see if they are experiencing delays.

    The Aviation and Transportation Security Act enacted in November requires airlines to enhance inspections of all checked baggage by Friday. Airlines essentially were given four options: use explosive detection equipment, hand search bags, use trained explosive-sniffing dogs or match bags to boarded passengers.

    Airports have until Dec. 31 to install more explosives detection equipment used to check all luggage. For now, most airlines likely will implement the bag-matching program, which they already use for all international flights, according to aviation sources.

    Airlines across the country won't offer details of how they'll comply with the new federal law, but say they don't anticipate problems or major delays.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will speak about aviation security today in Washington, D.C., and to reporters afterward about the changes.

    Critics contend the federal government caved to pressure from airlines by only requiring luggage checks on originating flights — either a direct city-to-city flight or the first leg of a connecting flight. That means luggage does not have to be checked, or matched to a passenger, at each connecting airport.

    "They cut a deal behind the scenes that the Department of Transportation and the FAA and the airlines reduce the magnitude of the requirement of a baggage match by 50 percent," said Billie Vincent, a former FAA security chief and now president of Virginia-based Aerospace Services International. "They've applied it only to originating passengers."

    Aviation consultant Nick Lacey, a former director of flight standards for the FAA said he believes the luggage checks are going to be detrimental, "if the result is a slight increase in security and a huge increase in passenger processing times."

    However, local flight attendants say trying to check all baggage at every stop would be impossible.

    "That's unrealistic," said Teddy Xidas, president of the US Airways Local 40 office of the Association of Flight Attendants. "They're not thinking of the process. You'll never have 100 percent — it's not realistic."

    Xidas welcomed the new baggage checks, saying "It's an extra security check and we should've been doing this for years."

    Kevin Dillon, director of New Hampshire's Manchester Airport, warned of the danger of relying too heavily on baggage screening.

    "We should also be focusing on other things — immigration laws, passenger profiles, interrogation techniques," he said. "There are so many things this country needs to be looking at in terms of aviation security."

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