Majority of Americans say post-9/11 air safety adequate, poll finds

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 12, 2008 

WASHINGTON -- Pilots pack guns in the cockpit. Passengers stoically wait in line at security checkpoints. Experts trained in the nuances of human behavior roam airports searching for potential terrorists.

These are just some of the hundreds of safeguards imposed in the seven years after 9/11 and, according to a new Ipsos/McClatchy poll, a strong majority of Americans believe there is now adequate security in airports and airplanes. Some, in fact, think there is too much.

Fifty-two percent of the public believes the government and airlines have done enough in improving security on airplanes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and 10 percent believes the improvements have been excessive.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, 38 percent believe that more needs to be done to safeguard passengers from potential terrorism.

The survey produced similar opinions about security measures now in place in airports. The breakdown: Enough, 50 percent. Too much, 15 percent. Not enough, 35 percent.

Clifford Young, senior vice president for Ipsos Public Affairs, said the findings show that Americans "are overall confident" with security in airports and airplanes.

But with at least a third saying more needs to be done, "there is still the need to look at those who don't believe the government and airlines are doing enough," said Young.

The terrorist hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans led to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration in 2002, leading to what TSA spokesman Christopher White calls the "highest level" of aviation security in history.

About 43,000 TSA officers screen 2 million people and 3.5 million bags each day. The agency also has 500 bomb-sniffing dogs and plans to add 200 more to sniff cargo for potential explosives.

While Americans have grown accustomed to post-9/11 security lines, where they now routinely yank off shoes and belts, many regard the practice as inconvenient -- if not intrusive.

Joseph Hubbard, a retired physicist from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., considers security lines "a mess," recalling that he recently had to endure a wait of more than two hours.

"They're going to have to be able to speed it up, but I don't know how they're going to do it," he said.

One TSA innovation is certainly not for the overly modest. Whole-body imagers have been installed at 17 airports, including JFK in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth, enabling operators to see through clothes to look for hidden objects.

The screenings are given only to those requiring additional scrutiny -- and even then they are voluntary. Passengers have the option of going through the scanner or submitting to a full-body pat-down. More 90 percent choose the imager, said White.

White, pointing out privacy safeguards, said the officer cannot see the passenger's face and cannot make a copy of the image. Additionally, the machine produces a robotic image rather than a detailed likeness of the body, White said.

Toughened security has also been extended to airplanes, which have fortified cockpit doors to help prevent a terrorist takeover like those aboard the hijacked planes on 9/11. Pilots are now legally authorized to keep guns in the cockpit and sky marshals often travel incognito among the passengers.

The Ipsos/McClatchy poll suggests that many Americans share the sentiments of Bradley Troy, an air traffic controller from Barnesville, Ohio, who was preparing to fly home from Washington on Friday.

"I think it's safer than before 9/11, but I'm also smart enough to know there are vulnerabilities that haven't been identified," he said. Of the security requirements now facing post-9/11 passengers, Troy added: "It's an inconvenience but a necessary inconvenience

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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