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Travel security

Posted: November 23, 2010 2:39 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Today, during the peak of the holiday traveling season, workers employed by the Transportation Security Administration, the agency charged with trying to keep terrorists off airplanes, will endure a great deal of criticism and short tempers from Americans who don’t like the new measures effected by the TSA, including full body scanners and pat-down searches for passengers who don’t want to be scanned.

Like most, we wish there were an easier way. We recall fondly -- young people won’t have a clue about this -- the days when Americans simply walked onto airplanes with nothing more than a ticket. Metal detectors and picture IDs weren’t needed, and everyone had full run of the airports. Sadly, those days are gone, having fallen victim to a more dangerous time and demented extremists who believe they can kill in the name of religion.

There has been a healthy give-and-take among the public and among security experts about the wisdom and efficacy of the scanners and pat-downs. There has been criticism -- some of it justified -- about unprofessional and inappropriate touching. One flight attendant who is a breast cancer survivor testified that a TSA worker asked her to remove her prosthetic breast in the name of security. Certainly some TSA staffers could be better trained and more flexible.

But the cold, hard truth is that we live in a dangerous age, and the new measures are a result of terrorists’ ongoing efforts to elude security and blow up airplanes, with the ultimate idea of killing massive numbers of Americans. Bombs hidden in shoes or underwear can’t be detected without sophisticated means. And while the TSA and security experts should continue to tweak the process and try to make it as palatable as possible, they can’t ignore the constant threat.

We aren’t very patient with those Americans who have threatened to deliberately delay security procedures in crowded airports. In fact, one observer noted recently that Europeans are often more willing to undergo difficult procedures if they believe it’s all for a more important good. All of us could take a hint from that. We might not like the idea of scanners, and pat-downs certainly are no fun. But they’re both far preferable to exploding airplanes and dead Americans.

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