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Airport Security: A Story Of Action And Reaction

The history of aviation safety is a reactionary one: a hijacker, terrorist or "underwear bomber" finds a weakness in the system and we scramble to make sure it doesn't happen again. A look at how we got to where we are today:


Palestinian liberationists hijack four planes and bring widespread public attention to the potential dangers of increasing commercial flight. In response to the attacks, President Nixon announces a comprehensive anti-hijacking program that included placing sky marshals on select flights.


As commercial air travel increases and hijackings continue, focus turns from security in the air to security on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues a rule requiring airlines to inspect all carry-on bags for weapons and scan each passenger with a metal detector. Passengers argue that such screenings are an infringement of Fourth Amendment rights, but the courts uphold the security measures. The new precautions work — in 1969, 87 aircrafts are hijacked. In 1973, none are.


A bomb on Pan American Flight 103 blows up the plane as it flies over Scotland, killing 270 people. The FAA institutes a number of increased security measures following the attack, including the rule that all bags on a plane must belong to a passenger onboard.


Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress creates the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A slew of new security measures are enacted, including those that increase screening for airport employees, place more law enforcement personnel at airports and on flights, and require all checked bags to be inspected with explosives detection machines.

Richard Reid tries to detonate explosive devices stored in his shoe on an American Airlines flight traveling from Paris to Miami. Passengers in the U.S. are now required to remove their shoes for inspection as part of the security screening process


British authorities foil a plot by terrorists that would have taken down at least seven planes using liquid explosives. Airports around the world institute limits on the amount of liquid allowed in carry-on baggage.

TSA officials say the restrictions in the U.S. may be eased by the end of 2010, as screening machines that are able to differentiate between harmful and innocuous liquids are installed in airports.


Would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempts to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day. The foiled attack leads to a discussion of using full-body scanning machines more often.

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