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Security chief hopes to curb airport lines

The chief of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that airport security personnel would make common-sense judgments to avoid creating "multihour lines" at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The official, James M. Loy, undersecretary of transportation for security, also said that with aviation security preparations beginning to fall into place, he would soon turn more attention to other modes of travel.

Loy said he was committed to strong security but also to preventing that security from creating problems for travelers and damaging the American economy. "It doesn't take much of a viewer, an observer," he said, "to recognize that it was the economic dislocation as a result of things that occurred on Sept. 11" that penalized the country in the aftermath of the attacks that day.

Speaking with reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Aviation Safety Alliance, an advocacy organization of the airlines, aircraft manufacturers and related industries, Loy said that when he met with screeners, as he does regularly, he told them "to remember the pleases and thank yous." Screeners can make travel a pleasant experience rather than a nightmare, he said, and "I want those people to be encouraging those experiences, so people aren't opting for a train to New York as opposed to the Delta shuttle."

Thanksgiving always produces long lines at airports. The Transportation Security Administration's routine goal is to take no more than 10 minutes to screen a passenger, but officials of the agency say the counting begins only when the passenger reaches the head of the line and enters the actual screening process.

Lines have become shorter, though, with the hiring of new screeners and the opening of new lanes. In fact, some travelers have observed that between peak periods, screeners have little to do.

"If I want to err in this security business," Loy said, "I want to err on the side of producing too much initially, and pare it back."

A bigger challenge may come on Dec. 31, the effective date of new requirements that checked bags be screened for bombs. But the domestic security bill just passed by Congress gives Loy the authority to grant his agency exemptions, airport by airport, for up to a year. An earlier version of the bill would have limited the exemptions to 40 airports; Loy said he would keep that number in mind, although the bill as passed has no limit.