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And I'm Melissa Block.
For most of the week, we've heard about upcoming changes to the rules for passenger screening at airports. Today, the Transportation Security Administration offered some new information about those changes, which are set to take effect December 22nd. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, there will be more random searches, and certain sharp objects will be allowed again in carry-on bags.
PAM FESSLER reporting:
TSA Administrator Kip Hawley says airport security needs to be less predictable, that the government has to mix things up a bit to keep travel safe.
Mr. KIP HAWLEY (Administrator, Transportation Security Administrator): In the past, security measures at every airport were pretty much the same. Whether you were a frequent flier or a potential terrorist, you knew what to expect every time everywhere.
FESSLER: So starting this month, passengers will be searched more randomly. Right now thorough inspections are usually triggered by something like the purchase of a one-way ticket. Secondary inspections will also start varying from day to day and airport to airport. Some passengers might have their shoes scanned for explosives; others will have their bags searched or get a pat-down. That pat-down will also change, including arms and legs as well as a passenger's torso. Hawley says he wants screeners to focus more attention on the most serious threats, such as explosives. That's why TSA is trimming the list of items passengers are banned from bringing on board.
Mr. HAWLEY: We are opening a lot of bags to take away objects that do not pose a great risk.
FESSLER: Passengers will now be allowed to carry scissors with blades of four inches or less and screwdrivers, wrenches and other tools measuring seven inches or less. Hawley says these items account for about a quarter of the millions of things confiscated each year.
But flight attendants oppose the change, saying it threatens their safety. And House Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon says he doesn't think it'll do much to improve screeners' ability to detect explosives.
Representative PETER DeFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): And that's due to inadequate and obsolete technology, not the fact that screeners are poring over their screens looking for cuticle scissors and things like that.
FESSLER: He says the answer is more and better explosive-detection equipment, which TSA is only gradually installing. DeFazio thinks the changes are really a response to the fact that air travel is growing and the number of screeners has stayed the same.
Rep. DeFAZIO: They don't want to spend the money, plain and simple. They just don't want to spend the money.
Mr. HAWLEY: That's not true. If we had one screener or a million screeners, I would want to make this change.
FESSLER: Hawley says it makes good security sense, and if all goes well, it shouldn't slow down checkpoint lines. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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