Babies Under Scrutiny At Airports

American Airlines employee Harry Johnson works on a new x-ray machine next to the passenger check-in area at Washington's Ronald Reagan Airport in Arlington, Va., Tuesday Oct. 3, 2001, the day before its reopening after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. AP

Nearly four years after the terrifying events of Sept. 11, 2001, airport security continues to be a difficult proposition — hard to achieve for those in charge of making the skies safer, and hard on the nerves for millions of air travelers.

Two especially sticky issues: babies and children reportedly being stopped from boarding because of names too similar to terror suspects; and an effort to modify sophisticated x-ray machines to detect bombs and other threats while suppressing potentially embarrassing detailed images of body parts.

USA Today says the Transportation Security Administration is paying two engineering firms $722,000 to modify new super-revealing x-ray machines so that the images they produce could be adjusted to add or subtract details.

"We believe you get excellent detection capability even with filtering," Joe Reiss, marketing director for American Science, one of the engineering firms building the modified machines, told the newspaper.

Others have their doubts that machines sparing air travelers' privacy would also guard against smuggled weapons. The TSA reportedly hopes to be testing a few of the new machines in airports sometime this fall.

Another area which appears to be in need of fine-tuning: the "no fly" lists meant to make things tougher for would-be hijackers by refusing to allow passengers to board if there is any trace of suspicion about their intentions.

Stopping babies from boarding planes sounds like a joke, but it's not funny to parents who miss flights while scrambling to have babies' passports and other documents faxed.

The Transportation Security Administration, which administers the lists, instructs airlines not to deny boarding to children under 12 — or select them for extra security checks — even if their names match those on a list.

But it happens anyway. Debby McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association, said: "Our information indicates it happens at every major airport."

  • Francie Grace

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