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Airports missing the point

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The lines are huge, reminiscent of the first time Rolling Stones tour tickets went on sale or the week the Jazz first qualified for the NBA Finals.

But the massive lines aren't for tickets to anything. As a matter of fact, everyone in line already has a ticket.

In the wake of last week's airborne terrorist attacks, this is how you now get to Boise or Scranton, or Chicago or San Jose.

One inch at a time.

The idea behind the beefed-up, line-creating security at an airport near you is obvious: to avert another disaster. That's why there are no more curbside check-ins, no more Swiss Army keychain knives making it past metal detectors, no more nonticketed personnel in the boarding area, no more quick identification checks, and no more standby passengers clogging up the system. That's why passengers are told to get to the airport at least two hours early and why planes are sometimes leaving later than ever.

But lost in all the overreaction is this: The old system worked.

Didn't it?

Airport security as we know it wasn't the problem in last week's hijackings. Airport security as we know it actually worked very well. The only way the terrorists pulled off their crime wasn't by beating the existing system but by going around it — by using plastic knives that could make it through the metal detectors, by getting on board essentially unarmed and, for that matter, quite legally. For the most part, it seems they even used their own names on the passenger manifest.

Because of standard airport security being as tight as it is in this country, the terrorists knew they couldn't get bombs on board, or triggermen who could get off board.

So they didn't even try. Instead, they found triggermen who were willing to die along with everyone else, and they found a new bomb — the airplane itself.

And how are you going to keep that from boarding?

As any defensive coordinator will tell you, when the offense finds a new way to beat you, you don't keep defending the same old way.

If the newest brand of terrorism calls for keeping terrorists out of cockpits so they can't fly planes into buildings, and if it calls for safeguarding innocent passengers enough so they don't unwittingly become part of the plane when it becomes a guided missile, then attack that.

Tightening up and fine-tuning the existing security system is always a good idea, but not at the expense of ignoring the real problem, and not unnecessarily so. Why put hundreds of sky caps out of business by disallowing curbside check-in, for instance, when they weren't the ones who ushered those hijackers onto the planes?

Exactly how you defeat the new terrorism in the skies, I don't know for sure, but there must be trained anti-terrorists out there who have some pretty good ideas.

Maybe it's with armed air marshals. Maybe it's with one-way cockpit doors. Maybe — and let's call this the NRA option — it's to allow people to board armed. Or how about making it mandatory that everyone has a weapon? There, that ought to level the playing field.

Of course, arming every passenger would be going too far in a civilization that's come a long way since Dodge City.

Something smart and effective needs to be done and done quickly, and I'm thinking that making a businessman stand in line two hours to get to Boise probably isn't it.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.