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No More Questions At Counter

Beginning Thursday, airline passengers will no longer be asked the routine security questions about whether they have kept a close eye on their baggage.

Ticket agents have been required for the past 16 years to ask passengers two 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?"

The questions are being phased out because they create a hassle and have never prevented a bombing or hijacking, James Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, said Wednesday.

"Over the years, they have lost whatever original value they contributed and can now be safely eliminated," Loy said.

The questions take about 20 seconds to ask and that adds up to a longer wait for someone standing in line behind 20 people, Loy said.

The TSA, which was created after Sept. 11 to oversee aviation security, has already begun to notify the airlines of the decision, Loy said. "They are delighted," he said.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said passengers would be delighted, too.

"It's about time," Stempler said.

Loy, who took over last month, said last week the agency was considering eliminating the questions as part of a larger review of safety regulations. He announced then that passengers will be allowed to carry drinks in paper or foam cups through metal detectors.

Next on the agenda may be random screening of passengers at airport gates, he said.

"I think passengers would really like that," Stempler said. "We never understood that. You either do it right the first time or fix what you're doing at the security lane."

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