Last week, the Nose took to the air for the first time since Sept. 11, fully expecting to be cavity-searched and scanned like a cancer patient who had swallowed a batch of barium. Not a chance. Despite the presence of scrub-faced guards with automatic weapons, the airline industry still hasn't figured out how to deal with terror in the skies.

On the way east, during a layover lunch at Chili's in the Chicago terminal, I asked for a plastic knife to cut a hamburger and was told that they were not being provided inside O'Hare. On the plane, however, the rubbery lasagna came complete with...a plastic knife.

Coming home from Providence, R.I., I mistakenly left a pen-knife in my carry-on bag, but it sailed through the conveyor belt without drawing any attention.

I'm not the only one feeling nervous about the safeguards implemented below the once-friendly skies. An associate of mine passed through Chicago on Sunday. His pocket of change set off the alarms at the checkpoint, just as another passenger was told her bag had to be searched. When she began screaming about the further delay, the security officers all converged on her, leaving my colleague free to collect his bags and proceed to the gate without being searched.

Another co-worker says he flew from PDX to San Francisco last week--at the height of the anthrax scare--with a large baggie of climbing chalk in his carry-on bag. No problem.

We used to fly with the knowledge that if a wacko wanted to use a plane as a personal middle finger to the world, he could probably do so. But that was in the old days, before it actually happened. Before it appeared that there were thousands of Manchurian candidates who shared swarthy complexions and a maddeningly determined belief that death and destruction were both the means and the end.

Today it's all a reality, so it's fair to expect that airports will take this more seriously than just asking to see your ID three times and refusing to let you cut your burger in half.

What are we talking about? Scanning each and every piece of luggage--even bags that aren't carried on. Searching every carry-on--not just random ones (hell, the folks at the Oregon Zoo do this before every concert, without a hitch). Not letting a plane lift off unless every passenger who checked in with luggage actually takes a seat on the plane. And, for God's sake, not letting people slip blades on board.

Congress wasted no time last week passing a bill that makes it easier for the FBI to wiretap your phone or check out your Web traffic. But it can't seem to pass a bill that would improve airport security. Part of the problem is that organized labor insists that airport checkers be federal employees (even though European and Israeli airlines use contract workers), while Bush says that's nonsense. My nose tells me that this sort of partisan politics stinks, particularly at a time like this. The Schnozz wants to cut his hamburger and feel safe.