Travel hassles could end with TSA redo
Even I have joined the scores of regular travelers who are avoiding trips because of past experiences.
We’ve waited in long lines at security, shed our shoes and coats to go barefoot through screening, been patted down — sometimes quite intrusively, lost our carefully packed toiletries to the Transportation Security Administration and been patronized, delayed and made to feel like criminals.
A 2010 survey by Consensus Research found that Americans would take two or three additional flights a year, if not for the hassles. Those additional flights would add nearly $85 billion in consumer spending and 900,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.
The same research found that most Americans find the current system to be embarrassing, inconsistent and stressful. There have been no successful terror attacks since 9/11, but the system is neither cost effective nor efficient.
Asking if that’s the best we can do for a country who put a man on the moon, the U.S. Travel Association put together a blue ribbon panel to learn if there’s a better way. The panel included former top officials from the TSA, representatives from the airlines, airports, and security technology sectors; plus leaders who represent destinations and other businesses that rely on a functional air travel system. To make sure the voice of the traveler was represented, the U.S. travel Association canvassed travelers through opinion surveys and on the website www.YourTravelVoice.org, More than 3,000 recommendations were collected, some of which are reflected in the final report.
What has resulted are goals and the processes for attaining them that will likely begin to be implemented this year.
In doing away with the one-size-fits-all approach to screening, the system will adopt custom security tailored to risk assessment, to develop a seamless operation without duplication among the Transportation Security Administration, private contractors, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and International Civil Aviation Organization.
Risk assessment will take the place of rules made as a reaction to real or perceived attacks. Hardened cockpit doors were put on planes in response to the 9/11 attacks and liquids were restricted after an aborted attack on a U.S. bound aircraft in August 2006. Deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology at checkpoints was done as a reaction to the Dec. 25, 2010 attempted airline bombing.
Implementation of a Trusted Traveler program will refocus resources on the highest risk passengers. The voluntary, government run program would give swift passage through security without the removal of shoes to those willing to provide more information about themselves, who pass a criminal history records check, and present a biometric fingerprint or iris for matching to a database. The traveler would walk through an explosives detection device and pass a behavior expert trained to recognize behavior outside the norm. He or she would then go to the flight boarding area.
It’s likely that a fee might be applied to implementation of a Trusted Traveler program but fees might also be waived for frequent travelers and those holding other documentation for similar programs.
The majority of travelers could be eligible for that program, freeing Transportation Security Agency personnel for other areas.
Other changes those who fly may soon see would be the Department of Transportation issuing regulations that would allow one checked bag as part of basic airfare, instead of leaving that decision up to individual airlines.
The fees imposed for checked bags have caused travelers to carry on and wear more items, which, in turn, creates a backup at security and aboard flights.
Other changes would put the entire security area at the airport under the control of the TSA. Because each airport is slightly different and the space is shared with TSA among the airport itself and airlines. Confusing and even contradictory policies have resulted.
Nonpartisan leadership of TSA is another change in the offing. It would create a job with a five-year term spanning different presidential elections and make the job — and its policies — less political.
Chief among the goals for developing a better way of passenger screening and airline security is seeking input about how to develop a risk assessment based program. Employing a true risk management strategy is not about adding layers of security, the panel found.
The one-size-fits-all approach has, instead, resulted in increases of more than 70 percent in TSA’s budget, which in some years was even greater than that of the FBI.
The report calls for the immediate reinstatement of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee to enhance public engagement in the process and for the Department of Homeland Security to develop mechanisms for the sharing of research, and evaluation of explosives detection technology.
The report proposes well-thought-out and ingenious solutions to what most will agree has become a problem of increasingly aggravating proportions.
Read it at www.ustravel.org/betterway.