The U.S Travel Association and a panel of travel and security experts today unveiled a groundbreaking plan to improve security at America’s airports and reduce the burden on travelers. Among the most notable recommendations are the creation of a trusted traveler program and a requirement that travelers be allowed to check at least one bag at no additional cost to the ticket price as a means to reduce the amount of luggage going through the security checkpoint.
The need for reform was made especially clear by recent research revealing that travelers are avoiding two to three trips per year due to unnecessary hassles associated with the security screening process. These avoided trips come at a cost of $85 billion and 900,000 jobs to the American economy.
The recommendations, the culmination of a year-long analysis to remake aviation security screening, were issued in a report titled “A Better Way: Building a World Class System for Aviation Security,” and call on Congress to own responsibility for improving the current system through effective policy decisions. U.S. Travel and its panel of experts set out to achieve three primary goals:
Improve the TSA checkpoint by increasing efficiency, decreasing passenger wait times and screening passengers based on risk;
Generate greater governmental efficiency and cooperation in executing its security responsibilities;
and Restructure America’s national approach to aviation security by developing and using risk management methods and tools.
“While our government and passengers deserve credit for preventing another terrorist attack like what happened nearly 10 years ago on 9/11, each day in the United States roughly two million air travelers are advised to arrive upwards of two hours before a flight in order to be processed through a one-size-fits-all security screening system,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
“The country that put a man on the moon, invented the Internet and creates daily innovations in manufacturing can and must do better in screening passengers and improving our air travel experience. Air travel is the gateway to commerce and an improved experience is directly tied to job creation and a stronger economy.”
The blue ribbon panel created by U.S. Travel was chaired by former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Congressman Jim Turner and Sam Gilliland, president and chief executive officer of Sabre Holdings. The panel consisted of former top officials from DHS and TSA; representatives from the airline, airport, logistics and security technology sectors; and leaders who represent the destinations and other businesses reliant on a functional air travel system.
In helping U.S. Travel introduce the report, former Secretary Ridge said: “A strong aviation security screening system must feature several characteristics, including efficient methods of deterring and interdicting terrorists and criminals; tailored security based upon risk assessment; frequent, clear communication with the traveling public; and cost-effective use of resources.”
Dow acknowledged the complexity of addressing the current challenges, noting solutions will require cooperation, and possibly sacrifices by airlines, airports, the broader travel industry, the traveling public, federal agencies and the Congress, which he said must take responsibility for leading change.
“Dramatic policy shifts undermine the ability of our nation to create a secure and efficient aviation system, and demonstrate a lack of a long-term vision for aviation security,” Dow said. “TSA and its officers often bear unjustified public criticism for simply carrying out the ever-changing policies set by Congress and an unwillingness to date to embrace risk management. If this pattern is to change, Congress must set the tone and take on the responsibility of improving the current system.”
Rooted in the diverse professional and political viewpoints of the panelists, the group did not always find consensus in how to address the difficult challenges. Among the panel’s recommendations in the report:
Implement a risk-based trusted traveler program. Congress should authorize TSA to implement a new, voluntary, government-run trusted traveler program that utilizes a risk-based approach to checkpoint screening, with the goal of refocusing resources on the highest risk passengers;
Improve preparation of travelers. Industry stakeholders should work with TSA to improve their education and communication on security rules and regulations, targeting locations and sources that travelers are likely to review as they book or prepare for a trip;
Encourage fewer carry-on bags. The Department of Transportation (DOT) should issue regulations requiring airlines to allow passengers one checked bag as part of their base airfare and standardize existing rules covering the quantity and size of items that can be carried onto an airplane;
Reduce duplicative TSA screening for international arrivals. DHS should enable certain low-risk passengers who are traveling to another domestic airport to forego checked baggage and passenger screening upon landing in the U.S.;
Expand trusted traveler programs to qualified international passengers. DHS should expand access to international trusted traveler programs for international passengers entering the U.S., as well as lead efforts to establish a multinational network of streamlined entry procedures for low-risk travelers;
Give TSA authority over the entire checkpoint area. Congress should immediately act to clear up confusion over “ownership” of commercial aviation security and authorize TSA to control the entire security checkpoint starting at the beginning of the security lines and ending after a traveler exits the screening area;
Develop a comprehensive technology procurement strategy. TSA, in collaboration with technology vendors and the travel community, should develop a comprehensive strategy for implementing necessary checkpoint technology capabilities. Congress should provide multi-year funding plans for TSA to execute this strategy;
Implement well-defined risk management processes. The Administration should convene an external panel of experts with appropriate security clearances to review TSA aviation security programs, assess the risk each is designed to mitigate and develop metrics for measuring progress to lessen that risk.
Dow urged Congress and the Administration to seriously considering implementing the panel’s recommendations as quickly as possible, pointing out the current aviation security system is discouraging Americans from flying and contributing to a decline in productivity among those who choose to fly.
According to a 2010 survey conducted by Consensus Research, American travelers would take an additional two to three flights per year if the hassles in security screening system were eliminated. These additional flights would add nearly $85 billion in consumer spending and 900,000 jobs to the American economy.
According to the same research, a large majority of Americans consider today’s security screening system to be “inconsistent,” “stressful” and “embarrassing.”
Dow concluded: “When combining the staggering economic consequences of the current system with the widely held views of the traveling public – and with the American way of life hanging in the balance – the picture becomes clear. We must find a better way and build a new traveler-focused system for aviation security.”