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Scrutiny of checked luggage will cause much longer lines



Published: Sun, January 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Beware of horrid lines at airports come Jan. 18 -- the date that airlines are required to increase their scrutiny of checked baggage. All checked bags by then must be passed through explosive detection devices, sniffed by dogs or hand searched.

Alternately, airlines may simply make sure that every passenger who checked a bag is on board the same plane as the bag.

"We thought we saw long lines when they increased checks of carry-ons, but we haven't seen anything yet," said David Stempler, chief of the Air Travelers Association, a group representing U.S. airline passengers.

Not enough equipment: Consider, for example, that the nation's airports need about 2,000 explosive detection devices to process the 1.3 billion bags passengers check each year. Currently, there are 161 units, according to Paul Takemoto of the newly formed Transportation Security Administration. (The new agency, which will assume some of the FAA's old safety duties, is up and running, although its chief has yet to be confirmed by Congress.)

Dogs also are in short supply. And hand searches of all luggage? Imagine the current lines for carry-on searches, and multiply exponentially.

That leaves the technique of making sure bags and their owners fly together. Airlines already match bags on international flights. Currently, bags on connecting domestic flights are routinely taken from one plane and loaded on the next; matching will require that the bags return to a central handling facility, Stempler said.

The government has budged on one front: When passengers make a flight but their bags don't, the bags can go on a later flight.

They will simply be subjected to increased scrutiny, said Takemoto.




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