U.S. Eases Airport Security Restrictions

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Air travelers will be allowed to park closer to terminals and fewer will be subjected to security checks at the gate, federal officials said Monday.

The prohibition on parking within 300 feet of a terminal was imposed after the Sept. 11 attacks to proect against bombs in vehicles. The ban will be lifted as long as the terrorist threat remains at or below code yellow, the middle of a five-point scale of risk developed after the attacks, said Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The 300-foot rule will be reimposed if the threat level rises to orange or red, he said.

Airports also must draw up plans outlining how they would deal with the threat of an explosion, Johnson said.

Federal officials also will be changing the way air travelers are screened after they pass through security checkpoints. Rather than checking some passengers at every gate, only travelers at randomly selected gates will be subjected to searches.

``We're going to reduce the hassle-factor by reducing the amount of gate screening we're doing,'' Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson said.

TSA chief James Loy announced the changes at a conference Monday co-sponsored by the Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives.

New layers of airport security allow the rules to be eased, Johnson said. He cited a better-trained federal screener work force, federal air marshals, background checks of people who work beyond airport security checkpoints and screening of checked baggage at 252 airports.

Todd Hauptli, a spokesman for airport operators, said the facilities have pushed the TSA hard to let them reopen parking lots close to terminals.

"This has been a thorn in the side of many airports,'' and the rule brought no significant improvement security, he said.

Not only do some airports lose money because they've closed parking, they have to bus people from remote parking lots, Hauptli said. "It's definitely a passenger convenience, customer convenience issue.''

Like the parking restrictions, screening passengers just before they board their plane was on a ``stupid rule'' list that Loy drew up. He promised to look at the list and try more commonsense approaches.

As part of that effort, the TSA will change boarding-pass procedures at all or part of eight airports, adding to the nine that are in a pilot program to eliminate gate screening.

Requiring boarding passes before passengers pass through security allows airports to conduct thorough screenings for selected passengers at the security checkpoints rather than the gates.