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Airlines Caught in the Middle on Airport Security

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- As the controversy over security practices rages during one of its busiest travel periods, the airline industry is caught in the middle.

It can't say the Transportation Security Administration practices are bad, because they enhance security. It can't say they are good, because they trouble passengers who enjoy neither total-body scans nor intimate frisks.

Airlines "don't like it any more than we do," said Mike Flores, president of the US Airways (LCC) chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Looking ahead, Flores said, carriers "are concerned about what passengers are going to do. If they see passengers booking away and not flying and that hits the bottom line, you know for sure they will be on the front steps of Congress."

David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Travel Association said, "TSA is responsible for aviation security [and] the airlines must rely on TSA and its risk assessment to determine the most effective security measures."

However, the industry is brought into the discussions about implementation of the rules. "We have daily, sometimes multi-daily discussions with the TSA," Castelveter said. Those discussions involve ATA executives, airline executives and of course, station and airline security personnel who talk regularly with TSA officials.

The tougher pat downs, which began Oct. 29, reflect a confluence of events: the case of the "underwear bomber," who carried a bomb under his pants on a Amsterdam-Detroit flight last Christmas; the effort this month to ship packages with bombs on cargo planes, which indicated an elevated security risk; and the June appointment of John Pistole to head the TSA, which provided visible leadership at the agency.

While it is not inconceivable that short-haul passengers could make decisions not to fly in order to avoid offensive screening processes and while recognizing that this is an unusually heavy travel period, airlines' preliminary view is that the new regulations have had little impact on travel patterns.

"We believe most people will continue to travel as needed," said American (AMR) spokesman Tim Smith. "The vast majority of travelers are going through the same security procedures as before."
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