Airport Security at Issue as 9/11 Recedes

A T L A N T A, Sept. 2, 2002 -- It sometimes feels like the evacuation of the week.

Someone at some airport does something stupid, or illegal, or questionable, and shuts the place down.

In recent weeks, in Denver, a woman decided to skirt past security.

In New York, someone with a knife eluded security.

In Atlanta, someone got a gun through a screening check.

"Thank goodness they caught the girl, the woman, and found the gun," one traveler said. "That's all I can say."

Almost always, evacuations have ended peacefully.

An Expense and a Hassle

However, they are expensive — sometimes costing airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars — and they take their toll on passengers.

It is the new reality of air travel. While it probably won't happen to you, it could.

"I know it is tighter than it was a year ago, and it's, you know, you take your chances," a traveler said.

And it has not been easy for airport authorities. Most airports were not built with evacuations in mind. Most airport managers are not trained for it.

Federal authorities a few months ago decided to limit the number of officials who can order an evacuation, and set more guidelines to go by. That has brought the number of airport evacuations down significantly — down 34 percent from 124 for January through March, to 82 for May through July.

"The record right now is one of solid improvement from where we were six months ago," said John Meenan of the Air Transport Association.

On the other hand, some security advocates are not comforted by that number.

"Remember, virtually every airport evacuation has not been the result of a security threat, so much as it's been the result of a federal failure to implement proper security," said Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant.