Security in airports from Fairbanks to New York City and all points in between underwent a major change this past weekend. But to the average traveler, it probably seemed like not much happened.
On Sunday, airport security became the responsibility of the federal government, moving out of the hands of the private sector. It is one of the first steps in the nine-month-long process to transition to a better-trained and higher-paid work force. It was Congress' hope that such changes would equal increased safety for air travel after the disastrous hijackings of Sept. 11 and several subsequent security snafus.
Travelers and airport officials alike across the country reported that they noticed little difference -- which is what federal officials want at this point. They did not want the changes to lead to increased delays and inconveniences to travelers. But they do want these to be the first steps toward more secure airports and more confident travelers.
These transitions in our nation's airports come at an interesting time -- a time when the public's feelings about the dangers of terrorism in the United States seem to be transitioning as well. Not too long after Sept. 11, a Gallup News Service poll found that 64 percent of the public considered terrorism and national security as the most important problems facing the country.
But it hasn't taken long for that level of awareness to fade. By January, the number of Americans who said that terrorism and security were top priorities was down by almost half to 35 percent.
Certainly it would be impossible and unrealistic to expect that Americans would sustain the level of alertness and fear brought on by Sept. 11. Americans' efforts to ''return to normalcy'' -- as we have so often been asked to do -- brings with it a natural tendency to relax. That certainly is a sign of so-called normalcy in itself.
Congress passed these measures to federalize and tighten airport security when the public still was operating under a dramatically heightened sense of concern and fear about the possibilities of additional terrorist attacks. Even if this is no longer a concern at the front of most Americans' minds, it is one that we are well served to continue to take seriously.
With a lot of work and a little luck, hopefully the federalization of airport security will in fact lead to safer skies -- and allow Americans to think even less about the threat of terrorist attacks from the air.
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