Officials: Keep your shoes on for now

By Pete Williams, NBC News

The nation’s two top airline security officials said today that while travelers will eventually be able to go through checkpoints without taking off their shoes, it will be much longer before restrictions are lifted on carrying liquids.

In separate appearances, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole said improvements in screening technology will allow passengers to go through the lines without taking off shoes or belts, though neither of them said when that would come.

But the two officials said liquids are a different matter. “One of the last things to change will be restrictions on carry-on liquids,” Napolitano said.

Pistole put it this way: “We are working on technology to get to the point where we can allow liquids to come back on planes, but we’re not there yet.”

Both stressed the Obama administration’s goal of making air security more responsive to intelligence and less of a one-size-fits-all approach. They said TSA is working to streamline security for frequent travelers, a concept it has just begun to test at a few airports.  Eventually, Pistole said, trusted travelers who agree to undergo an intensive background check would breeze through a separate screening line, could keep their shoes on, and would not have to remove laptop computers from their briefcases. “Those are tangible benefits we’re looking for,” he said.

And both said the decision by airlines to increase baggage fees has put more pressure on TSA, with more carry-ons to check.  Napolitano said it’s costing TSA at least $270 million more a year in manpower expenses.  She wants Congress to raise the security fee airlines pay to have the government screen passengers.

Pistole has been pushing TSA to adjust screening procedures when the threat from specific kinds of travelers is considered low. “It made little sense to me that we should require pilots who are literally in charge of the aircraft to go through screening,” he said.

Under his direction, TSA has been working with groups of World War II veterans who go to Washington, DC on charter flights.  “There’s a chance that one of these elderly gentlemen — the youngest is in his late 80’s — is a terrorist, but it’s not likely.”

But Napolitano said the government can never issue a blanket rule that certain travelers, such as very young children or people in wheelchairs, will never be subjected to enhanced screening. “That’s what would be exploited if we tried that,” she said.


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