When the Bush administration decided federal agents would take over airport security screening in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the big question was whether a bureaucratic system could hire, train and deploy more than 47,000 Transportation Security Administration agents by last month's deadline.
Those concerns disappeared when the new TSA agents received their first blockbuster test: thousands of Thanksgiving holiday travelers. Under the federalized system, there were few security delays , and most airline passengers had to wait no more than 10 minutes to get through screening checkpoints, even at the height of the holiday travel crush.
One thing the TSA agents learned right away is that the Thanksgiving travelers, many of them inexperienced passengers, still don't fully understand that many items are no longer permitted on airline flights.
Surely the voluminous reporting about hijackers armed with box cutters during the Sept. 11 attacks is now seared into the memories of most Americans. The hijackers chose the plastic-handled cutters because they could be easily concealed and would pass unnoticed through most metal detectors.
As a result, federal aviation authorities banned just about anything that might be used as a weapon from the pockets and carry-on luggage of airline passengers.
But over the long Thanksgiving weekend, TSA agents found literally thousands of banned items, which were confiscated. The list includes nearly 16,000 pocket knives; more than 20,500 sharp objects such as scissors, ice picks and meat cleavers (yes, meat cleavers); more than 1,000 clubs or bats; six guns; 98 box cutters; more than 2,300 flammable items including a welding gun; a toy cannon made of live ammunition; and a brick.
In the weeks and months following the Sept. 11 attacks, airline travel dropped dramatically as potential passengers either made other travel plans or stayed at home. But the number of airline passengers has been picking up again, and travel volume for the coming Christmas holidays is expected to be high.
Passengers would be doing themselves -- and the TSA screeners -- a huge favor by understanding the rules and by leaving any banned items at home. Some airports already are shortening the time for advance arrivals at airports that are meant to accommodate the screening of all passengers and their luggage. By complying with regulations and avoiding the embarrassment -- and possible arrest -- for carrying banned items, the security check-in process will be speedier and easier for everyone.
Anyone planning to fly who is unfamiliar with the tightened security at airports should contact a travel agent or airline to make sure their travel plans aren't delayed or interrupted by failing to obey all the rules designed to protect those who fly.