At airport checkpoints passengers could one day slither through octopus-like "human sweepers," able to detect even the smallest particles or vapors of explosives. At the gate, passengers could insert boarding passes into so-called "ticket lickers," designed to nab anyone who has recently handled explosives.
These machines and others are now being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration as the U.S. aviation industry braces for an unprecedented restructuring of security.
The coming changes will ensure more hassles and higher prices.
According to Darryl Jenkins, of the George Washington University Aviation Institute, "We will probably see fewer planes flying in the air and the lowest discount fees that we've seen over the last three to four years we won't have anymore."
The biggest challenge is baggage: airlines carry more than a billion bags a year.
Only about 5 percent of checked luggage was screened for bombs before September 11. Congress has now ordered airlines to examine every bag, beginning January 18. And by the end of 2002, all bags must also be scanned by explosive detectors.
Cathal Flynn, who headed security for the FAA through the '90s, says there aren't nearly enough machines to do the job, not enough time to build more, and no place to put them at airports.
"To do 100 percent screening with explosive detection systems will be very difficult to meet," he thinks. "I, for one, don't see how it can be done."
And while Congress has issued mandates, it hasn't provided the money.
Passengers will pay a security surcharge of up to $10 a round trip. And airlines will contribute about $700 million a year. But where will the rest come from?
Jenkins offers a grim assessment: "The math doesn't work on any of this. If these are absolute drop dead deadlines, then we may just as well pack up the airline industry and go home right now because we're not going to meet any of these things."
Still, terrorism fears are fueling a technology race. The FAA has already tested an "eye scanner" system at Charlotte's Airport, and handprint ID's are already clearing international passengers at Los Angeles and Miami airports.
However it all shakes out the new security will bring a steep price: fewer flights, higher fares, less privacy, and the sobering reality that flying will never be the way it was before September 11.
© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved