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After the September 11, 2001 attacks, questions were raised regarding the effectiveness of airport security at the time, as all 19 9/11 hijackers managed to pass existing checkpoints and board the airplanes without incident. In the months and years following September 11, 2001, security at many airports worldwide was escalated to deter similar terrorist plots.
Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, airport screening was provided by private companies contracted by the airline or airport. In November 2001, the Transportation Security Administration was introduced to handle screening at all U.S. airports. Among other changes introduced by TSA, bulletproof and locked cockpit doors became standard on commercial passenger aircraft.
Cockpit doors on many aircraft are now reinforced and bulletproof to prevent unauthorized access. Passengers are now prohibited from entering the cockpit during flight. Some aircraft are also equipped with CCTV cameras, so the pilots can monitor cabin activity. Pilots are now allowed to carry firearms, but they must be trained and licensed. In the U.S., more air marshals have been placed on flights to improve security.
On September 11, hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Salem al-Hazmi all set off the metal detector. Despite being "wanded" (scanned with a hand-held detector), the hijackers were passed through. Security camera footage later showed some hijackers had what appeared to be box cutters clipped to their back pockets. Box cutters and similar small knives were allowed onboard aircraft at the time.
Airport checkpoint screening has been significantly tightened since 2001, and security personnel are more thoroughly trained to detect weapons or explosives. In addition to standard metal detectors, many U.S. airports now employ full-body scanning machines, in which passengers are essentially X-rayed to check for potential hidden weapons or explosives on their persons. Initially, early body scanners provoked quite a bit of controversy because the images produced by the machines were deemed graphic and intrusive. Many considered this an invasion of personal privacy, as TSA screeners were essentially shown an image of each passenger's naked body. Newer body scanners have since been introduced which do not produce an image, but rather alert TSA screeners of areas on the body where an unknown item or substance may be hidden. A TSA security screener then inspects the indicated area(s) manually.
On September 11, some hijackers lacked proper ID, yet they were allowed to board. Post 9/11, all passengers 18 years or older must now have valid, government-issued identification in order to fly. Airports may check the ID of any passenger at any time to ensure the details on the ID match those on the printed boarding pass. Only under exceptional circumstances may an individual fly without a valid ID. If approved for flying without an ID, the individual will be subject to extra screening of their person and their carry-on items. TSA does not have the capability to conduct background checks on passengers at checkpoints. Sensitive areas in airports, including airport ramps and operational spaces, are restricted from the general public. Called a SIDA (Security Identification Display Area) in the U.S., these spaces require special qualifications to enter.
A European Union regulation demanded airlines to make sure the same person checking in luggage also boards the aircraft. The method of implementing this was demanding ID from every passenger having check-in luggage, both when checking in a bag and before boarding.
In 2003 John Gilmore sued United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, arguing that requiring passengers to show identification before boarding domestic flights is tantamount to an internal passport, and is unconstitutional. Gilmore initially lost the case, known as Gilmore v. Gonzales, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.