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Measure would mandate airline 'bag matching'

From Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States government is eyeing a new security measure aimed at keeping bags off planes if passengers don't get on board with them.

So-called bag matching, meant to foil terrorists like those who planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 and then got off before it exploded, currently is required only on international flights.

Bags on domestic flights currently are matched only when a passenger is flagged as a potential risk by the profiling system and there's no explosive detection machine to examine the luggage.

Paul Hudson, who lost his daughter on Flight 103, is a strong believer in bag matching.

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"Positive bag matching is one of the two best defenses we have against aviation bombings," said Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project. "And aviation bombings remain the second most deadly form of terrorism."

U.S. airlines have opposed bag matching on domestic flights, arguing that unloading luggage if a passenger didn't board would cause lengthy delays. But now the Federal Aviation Administration is seriously considering requiring it. "There are discussions under way about how we would make that operationally happen," FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said recently.

An FAA-funded study in 1997 found bag matching would delay 14 percent of domestic flights, by an average of seven minutes. It's estimated that implementing 100 percent bag matching would cost airlines about 40 cents per passenger.

The aviation industry insists that studies show since one out of every 71 passengers doesn't board after checking a bag -- a missed connection, for example -- bag matching is an expensive precaution that would not stop suicide terrorists.

"There is absolutely zero security to have 100 percent bag match," said Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines. "It would be really tragic to make the American people think they were safe because we were doing 100 (percent) bag match when in fact it will do nothing to identify a threat."

But those who oppose bag matching soon may have no choice. The House aviation security bill would require it, while the Senate bill mandates "improved" bag matching, and the two chambers are currently working on a compromise.


• Federal Aviation Administration
• Air Transport Association
• Aviation Consumer Action Project

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