Last Friday should have been a huge headache for air travelers. The start of a three-day weekend was also the first day U.S. airlines had to screen checked bags for explosives and match bags to their owners on originating flights. But things went so smoothly that some security experts suspected not all the required checks were being performed. Even if they are, a big gap in the new regulations could leave passengers vulnerable. Because of a last-minute change, the Department of Transportation decided to "bag match" only on originating flights, not on the second or third leg of a continuing flight. The airline industry has resisted adopting the policy widely, saying it would worsen delays. But proponents point to the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988: it was placed by a ramp worker in Malta and on two connecting flights was never matched to a passenger. Congressman Jim Oberstar called the bag-match loophole "the Achilles' heel in the security system." A rule scheduled to take effect in December would require screening of all bags. But fewer than 10% of the FAA-approved machines needed are available.
--By Sally B. Donnelly