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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

Security in the Skies

With promises of ever tighter security, Reagan National Airport in Washington DC reopened last week as the air transportation industry struggles to return too normal. But things will never be what they once were. In fact, what the traveling public considered normal before September 11, 2001 needs to be redefined. Whether our war on terrorism lasts one week or five years, we must never let our guard down again. Terrorists have proven they can strike on American soil. Unfortunately, our history has shown that when we get complacent and comfortable in our own skin, bad things happen. Does Pearl Harbor ring a bell?

For years, the airline industry kept the federal government at bay when the subject of tighter security reared its ugly head. As usual, the airlines complained about costs. And when the FAA did prevail on a security issue, the airlines usually found the most inexpensive means to handle the problem, hence $6 per hour baggage screeners. A couple of weeks back I wrote an article urging my fellow journalists to stay on top of airline security.

I want to take the time now to urge your continued vigilance in reporting on lax security measures. The airlines have $15 billion of our money, we should see more than just token responses to tighter security. We're already starting to see a relaxation of certain security procedures. Its been widely reported that passengers at many airports are waiting in lines as long as two hours just to pass through security checkpoints. Unfortunately, were also seeing numerous stories where passengers are getting to the gate in 15 minutes with minimal to no security checks. I realize that many security procedures are invisible to the passenger, but the further we get away from those terrorist attacks the more the airlines will try to duck their responsibility for passenger safety.

Call me cynical, but the airlines have a history of avoidance when it comes to spending money on safety. Curbside check-in has already returned for some carriers and it won't be long before others follow suit. Allegedly, those carriers who allow curbside check-in have passed the more stringent security requirements imposed by the FAA. We should want to know what those requirements are. Have the skycaps been trained properly? Who's ultimately responsible?

Bags checked-in at the counter aren't necessarily being screened before being placed on the aircraft. The only time they are being screened is when the passenger fits a certain profile in the computer reservations system, and some of those aren't even being checked. Just last week the FAA had to issue orders for a more thorough examination of laptop computers and other carry-on luggage. Here's one to keep an eye on. United and American Airlines announced last week they would be putting steel bars on the cockpit doors of all their planes to prevent a would-be hijacker from entering the cockpit and commandeering the aircraft.

Continental and Alaska were to begin installation of crossbar locking devices on their cockpit doors, but decided to wait for more direction from the government before they proceed. These bolts and bars are temporary measures, until a more permanent solution can be found. Three ideas that will be getting a great deal of scrutiny in the coming months will be on-board surveillance systems. These systems will capture images of passengers as they board the aircraft. Those images will then be downloaded to a central computer for possible match with FBI crime photos.

A further extension of this video imagery would be to have on-board surveillance cameras active in flight, relaying images to a monitor on the ground. Another idea that's gained a little momentum over the past week is the use of remote control navigation. This would allow someone on the ground to control the plane if the pilot indicates the aircraft is in distress. Both ideas have some merit and both are fraught with peril.

For example, if the plane can be controlled from the ground why would a terrorist ever have to board the aircraft? And lastly, federal control of airline and airport security is a must. Six dollar an hour employees with no law enforcement training and a high degree of turnover due in part to poor pay should not be tolerated. The airlines will holler costs and on this one they might just be right, which is all the more reason why the federal government should seize control of security. They should pick the outside agencies used to screen our bags, pay them and more importantly train them in the ways of law enforcement much as they do the sky marshals.

I also believe a percentage of the cost should be passed on to the airlines. If the airlines run their companies properly, those costs shouldn't be passed on to the traveling public since they are already spending some monies on security. The new Secretary of Homeland Security should demand all agencies within the federal government and law enforcement work together to protect our citizens. How many times have we heard about the FBI, CIA, INS and the local police agencies not sharing information?

Regardless of the solution, you as journalists should demand results, if for no other reason than your own security as you travel to cover stories. Confidence in the nation's airways will only come through your eyes and ears. If security isn't what it should be, I encourage you all to report your findings. Stay on top of this story until the airlines and the government clean up their act. Let's not fall into a comfort zone and forget the lessons of September 11, 2001.