Safer, slower and costlier air travel Crash shock waves: President acts to restore public confidence.

July 27, 1996

WHOEVER OR WHATEVER brought down TWA 800 off Long Island on July 17 with 230 deaths has brought forward an increase in delays, costs and aggravation for air travelers and airlines. President Clinton properly acted to bolster confidence in the safety of air travel before the cause of the disaster was determined. The measures he ordered were not hastily concocted but already under consideration by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Recent travelers to such places as terrorism-savvy Israel, Britain and France are familiar with some innovations that will now come to American airports. They will be a nuisance. Some will seem silly or unnecessary.

There will be more hand searches of luggage including carry-on, identification challenges of ticket-holders, quizzes on reasons for travel and destinations, longer pre-flight formalities, delays of planes, higher costs borne by authorities, airlines and passengers, and lines, lines, lines. More sophisticated detection equipment that can spot plastic explosives, now found only in San Francisco and Atlanta airports in this country, will be introduced.

These measures were taken while terrorism was seen as a probable but not certain cause of the explosion of TWA 800. This was not a panic reaction, however. It was based on problems of foreign terrorism crossing boundaries, problems of domestic American terrorism made all too clear at Oklahoma City and the experience of airlines and security services throughout the world. It came as a number of airlines were announcing their own measures.

In places where air and rail travel are competitive, like the Northeast corridor, these increased penalties of flying can only help Amtrak and the bus lines. So be it. In time, some of these measures may be refined out of existence. When Vice President Al Gore reports in 45 days on his commission's recommendations on high tech anti-terrorism measures, there may be knowledge as to what did, and what did not, cause TWA 800 to go down.

In the meantime, President Clinton has responded well to the shock to civil aviation and to the grief of bereaved families. He has made air safety his responsibility, as indeed it is.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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