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Common-Sense Airport Security

Cross your fingers. Pittsburgh is about to be the pilot for a long-overdue overhaul of airport security rules. If it's successful, picking up and dropping off passengers might just get a whole lot easier.

Since 9/11, only ticketed passengers have been allowed past airport security checkpoints, with only limited exceptions (e.g., adults accompanying minor children). Anyone else had to say their hellos and goodbyes outside of security. Pittsburgh Airport has been lobbying hard to get the rule changed, because sales have slumped at an upscale shopping mall that resides entirely inside the security checkpoint. And because Pittsburgh has just one large checkpoint for the entire airport, it's an ideal place to try loosening the restrictions.

Mind you, it's not that I'm overly sympathetic to the fate of a Pittsburgh shopping mall. But I long for the good old days when you could escort a friend or family member all the way to the gate. And when arriving in an unfamiliar city, it's a lot easier to meet at the gate than to make your way to a confusing meeting point somewhere beyond baggage claim.

If the rule is to be changed, the major sticking point is ensuring that the added traffic through security doesn't slow down the process for the people who really need it--those who are traveling. Frankly, I think a number of related policies need to be re-examined at the same time. At airport security, the two most time-consuming requirements are: 1) Taking laptops out of their briefcases; and, 2) Requiring most passengers to remove their shoes. I have traveled extensively in Europe, where you are required to do neither, and I don't think the Europeans are lax about security. They're just smarter.

The security staff also check boarding passes a few too many times. Depending on the airport, and which way the wind is blowing, boarding passes and/or IDs are checked up to three times before you get to the gate, but it isn't consistent--sometimes, they only check once. You never know when it's safe to put your ID away.

The 9/11 terrorists have changed air travel forever, but I think the system can get a lot more convenient without sacrificing security. Many of the post-9/11 restrictions have since been lifted, as officials became more comfortable with the risks. This is, I hope, yet another example.

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