Consumer Reports Investigation: Still Major Security Lapses in Air Travel Six Years After 9/11

Major security lapses found in screening failures, questionable rules, insecure cockpits and thin security forces

NEW YORK, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --- Six years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration has major security lapses even in some areas that the agency has supposedly met its goals, according to a Consumer Reports investigation.

The TSA was created in Nov. 2001 to secure all modes of transportation including at the nation's 400 commercial airports and all airlines. According to the report, which appears in the February issue of Consumer Reports, the agency still falls short in 7 out of 24, or almost one-third of critical performance benchmarks set for itself.

CR has found major security lapses, including the following:

-- Insecure cockpits. CR cited dozens of problems including cockpit doors popping open in flight, pilots being locked out, and flight attendants breaking the doors by slamming them shut.

-- Screening failures. The TSA has an erratic record at checkpoint screening, including failures during undercover tests to identify weapons and explosives.

-- Questionable rules. The TSA has issued 25 versions of screening procedures over the years, and there's still confusion about bringing liquids and gels aboard. It also allows items such as lighters, tools, corkscrews, and pointed scissors that could be used as weapons.

-- Thin security forces. The government has tried to plug security holes in part by authorizing more flight crew members to carry guns. But the effort has lagged because of cumbersome training arrangements.

Titled "Air security: Why you're not as safe as you think," the investigation is in the February issue of Consumer Reports on sale January 8 , and online at

One of the most visible elements of new security effort post 9/11 was the requirement that reinforced doors be installed. By 2002, the FAA reported that all major U.S. airlines had complied. CR searched NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System and found 51 incidents since April 2002 in which flight crews reported problems with the hardened doors, many instances in which the door unexpectedly opened up in flight.

"The fact that the cockpit doors are not as secure as they are made out to be by the TSA is alarming," said Bob Tiernan , managing editor, Consumer Reports. "The pilots, who are on the frontlines of security, say it's the number one thing that could be improved." A facade of security

Although there hasn't been a successful terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11, security officials and others on the front lines say that the security lapses make it easier for one to take place. Some experts in the industry think that the clock is ticking.

An internal e-mail obtained by Consumer Reports suggests that the TSA might be stacking the deck to try to perform better on covert tests. In April 2006 , the TSA's Office of Security Operations sent a memo to numerous security personnel titled "Notice of Possible Security Test." It warned that airport security was being tested by the Department of Transportation in several airports and even gave some clues.

In addition, the TSA has been the subject of reports of mismanagement. A federal report in 2005 found that a private firm used to hire screeners for the TSA had estimated its fee at $104 million but was paid $741 million, including $1.7 million used for the use of a Colorado ski resort for recruiting.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, believes that the government should close the gaps in security by instituting more effective screening measures, creating a second cockpit barrier, and improving training of TSA officers, and providing more help for federal air marshals and flight crew members.

In the meantime, Mr. Tiernan suggests that consumers keep abreast of ever-changing rules and regulations: "The rules are changing all the time. Even a month or so or before you fly, travelers should check the TSA Web site at to see if there are new rules added that might affect their flight."

FEBRUARY 2008 . The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

SOURCE Consumer Reports