Airport Security: What's Next?

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DON RYAN/AP

A security officer checks a terminal at Oregon's Portland International Airport

The acts of terror took place hundreds of miles outside Boston, but the horrible chain of events appears to have begun at the local airport.

Wednesday morning, reeling after Tuesday’s hijackings, officials at Logan Airport in Boston scrambled to reassure an anxious flying public. Both planes that slammed into the World Trade towers originated at Logan.

Early Tuesday morning, American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175 were hijacked shortly after takeoff from Boston, flown off course and into the World Trade Center towers, causing a series of spectacular explosions which eventually collapsed both buildings. Logan does not stand alone in the grim spotlight — two other flights were also hijacked after taking departing Newark and Dulles; an estimated 266 people died on those four planes — but as the origin airport of two of the four doomed flights, scrutiny of the Boston airport was intense.

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Everybody wants to know how this could have happened — how did the terrorists make it onto not just one, but two planes departing within an hour of each other at the same airport? The official response offered little in the way of edification. "Everything seemed normal when they left Logan," Joseph Lawless, public safety director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, told reporters at a press conference. "We don't know how the hijackers accomplished what they did.

"We have a very high security standard here," he added. "We consider ourselves as secure, if not more secure, than any other airport in the United States."

The Federal Aviation Administration vows to increase security at all U.S. airports, including Logan, by employing more plainclothes security personnel, sweeping airports with bomb-sniffing dogs, discontinuing curbside check-in and increasing the occurrence of random ID checks. Airports will also vigilantly tow any unauthorized vehicle parked within 300 feet of a terminal.

All of these measures are, of course, designed to increase the level of safety in U.S. airports, and to make passengers feel more secure. And while the public is likely to embrace these changes in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s bombing, the true test of American patience will come later.

"There are many security issues the airports can adopt," says Dr. Richard Gritta, a professor at the Dr. Robert Pamplin School of Business Administration at the University of Portland, Oregon, and an expert on the airline industry. "Everyone will be very amenable in the short term. The question is whether the airports will stick with those measures in the long-term, when the shock of the attacks wears off."

U.S. citizens often are unnerved by presence of armed guards in international airports, Gritta points out. Will we see armed guards here? "It’s a possibility. The question is, are we willing to put up with the inconvenience?"

It’s trying enough, says Gritta, to be an airline passenger on a normal day in America. Add untold delays and checkpoints and general hassle to that experience, and you could be looking at an extremely grouchy flying public. "We’ve got overcrowded, overscheduled airports," he says. "And now we’re going to add longer lines and longer check-in times."

And that may very well be the reality we live with in a changed America. Gritta, for one, is hopeful the tightened security is here to stay. In the short term, anyway, we all need to prepare for a new travel experience. "If you go into an airport next week, for example, it will feel different. How different depends on how willing U.S. citizens are to accept the hassles that inevitably accompany increased security."