Security questions may be modified at airports


Airline passengers soon may be able to board a plane without being asked whether they have kept a close watch on their bags. And starting right away, they can take drinks through security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration, created after Sept. 11 to oversee airport security, is seeking ways to make travel less onerous. Among the considerations is getting rid of the questions, says agency chief James Loy. “A review is under way,” Loy said Thursday at a news conference in San Francisco. He said it was part of an examination of a larger body of regulations and that a decision would not take long. For the past 16 years, ticket agents have been required to ask passengers two security questions: “Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item on this flight?” and “Have any of the items you are traveling with been out of your immediate control since the time you packed them?” There is no hard evidence the queries have prevented a hijacking or bombing. Many passengers question the value of the questions. The Air Transport Association, which represents big airlines, would welcome the change, spokesman Michael Wascom said. “All passengers do not pose equal security threats,” Wascom said. “Why should we continue to ask these simple questions of everyone? We should be focusing on people who are higher security risks.” Loy, who took over last month, said the agency wants to balance customer service and security. He announced Thursday that passengers will be allowed to carry drinks in paper or foam cups through metal detectors. Until now, the policy has varied from airport to airport, Wascom said. “Today’s announcement reflects a more common sense approach that TSA is undertaking,” he said. The policy requires plastic, glass, metal and ceramic containers to be sealed and put through the X-ray screening machine. An open can of soda will not be allowed through a checkpoint, but a bottle of soda with a sealable top will. Screeners are forbidden to ask passengers to eat food or drink a drink as part of a security procedure. The policy was changed on June 24 after a woman said a security guard at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport forced her to drink from three bottles of her own breast milk to demonstrate the liquid posed no threat to other passengers.