Cover Story: Airport security

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's the next step in airport security.  Whole body scans.  Some call it virtual undressing - everything underneath your clothes exposed.  How it's already being used and when it will be here in Charlotte in our Cover Story.

The entire world having a knee-jerk reaction to the latest attempted terrorist attacks.  Airport security measures under the microscope.

You may remember we told you about the puffer machines being used as part of airline security.  The machines were designed to detect explosive devices and drugs.  They were used in Charlotte Douglas Airport.

The government spent millions of dollars installing them, but then it spent millions more to take them out back in May.

Puffers seem like a thing of the past, now security officials want to take passenger checks to the next level.

Among the possibilities fuller and more frequent body pat-downs and scanning.  And while it may be controversial in Congress surprisingly there's not that much opposition by the flying public to these new security measures being considered.

When passengers go through the airport security most people think they're checking for everything.

What they don't know is that the devices the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA uses detects metal and not explosives.

In the incident on Christmas Day in Detroit the alleged bomber was hiding plastic explosives, authorities say in a condom-like pouch below his torso.. which went undetected.  A similar type explosive Richard Reid attempted to use to bring a plane down in 2001.

Which is how puffer machines which detect for explosives were rushed into production only to be abandoned this year because they have proven to be unreliable.

Enter the next generation of security.  The whole-body imaging scanner which uses x-rays to detect objects under clothing.  While they cannot detect explosives the body scan can see everything else.  A virtual strip search, some argue.

And as Charlotte airport director Jerry Orr says are controversial.  "It's an emotional and political issue that Congress has weighed in on and it all boils down to who should be looking at you naked?"

The TSA is using 40 body scan x-rays at 19 airports nationwide.  Charlotte is on the schedule to receive one next year.

Since the 9/11 attacks when commercial airlines were hijacked and used as weapons the government's spent billions on airline security.  Much of that money has gone toward training and equipment and it's led to longer waits at the airport.

But in the most recent terrorist incident the alleged bomber's name appeared on a watch list that apparently wasn't paid much attention to and equipment that could have detected him didn't.

Passengers seem to have accepted the terrorism attempts and the security delays as part of traveling by air today.

Says one, "I think we're just going to always have to be aware of it. If someone has the intention of doing something they're going to get through somehow."

What fliers can expect now as a result of this latest terrorist attempt:  The TSA is now doing multiple luggage checks, increased passenger pat downs and airlines are now keeping passengers in their seat one hour before landing.

As far as the security checkpoints here in Charlotte no major issues since Christmas terrorist attempt.  The Airport hasn't reported any of the long lines we've seen at other airports across the county.