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Editorial: Discomfort a small price for security on airplanes

For nearly a decade U.S. air passengers have faced one inconvenience after another in the name of security.

No loved ones on the concourse. Remove your shoes. Leave liquids and pocket knives behind. Prepare to open a rifled suitcase with a note saying your bag was inspected.

Aggravating, yes. But if it helps prevent airborne terrorist incidents, worth the annoyance.

The latest indignity in the post-9/11 world is the uncomfortable choice between fairly graphic full-body scans or “enhanced” pat-downs. Where will it end?

Honest answer: We don’t know.

For a long while, metal detectors and the occasional frisking seemed to suffice. Then some would-be martyr packed 80 grams of pentaerythritol tetranitrate in his drawers and tried to make it go boom somewhere between Amsterdam and Detroit. Fortunately, the ignition effort went amiss and a singed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab now stands charged with a crime, but his exploit ignited new worries at the Transportation Security Administration.

Obviously, keeping one step ahead of the bad guys – or at least not too many steps behind – is a major challenge for TSA, so the fact that the new, more aggressive screening steps have not been implemented until now is evidence that the agency is trying to go no further than necessary. The requirement to remove your shoes while going through passenger screening was imposed only after another terror suspect boarded with explosive footwear.

Not everyone sees it that way, as demonstrated by an outcry among some passengers over the new methods. A Los Angeles woman interviewed by MSNBC said she’d forgo her traditional Thanksgiving trip to Toledo, Ohio, rather than submit to a procedure she likened to rape.

That’s an exaggeration, as are such sobriquets as “feel-ups” and “porno scanners” that some critics have applied to the methods. Still, even TSA head John Pistole, having submitted to a pat-down (in which the palms and fingers are used where only a backhanded brushing was allowed before), conceded that it was uncomfortable and “more invasive than what I was used to.”

TSA isn’t at fault here, though. TSA is on our side. The underwear bomber and his allies and sympathizers, whoever they are, are the real culprits.

TSA does have a duty to demand its agents do their jobs reasonably and professionally and with absolute respect for the traveling public. Complaints should be thoroughly investigated and misbehavior dealt with severely.

No security plan will be perfect, but modest traveler inconvenience is a reasonable price to pay for a little added peace of mind.

Extra baggage fees? That’s altogether different.

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