Long Lines At Airports Have Got To Go, Says Travel Association

Photo – Chris Owen


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been working on addressing long lines at airport security screening areas for quite some time. TSA Precheck lanes are being expanded to more airports every year and Global Entry lets frequent, pre-authorized travelers to zip into the United States. Just last week, we reported faster airport screening via a new TSA program. But that’s not enough, says a travel trade organization, urging Congress to take action.

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) is battling what they believe to be the cause of problems at our airports; budget restrictions and poor planning. They believe the current system leaves airports unable to handle millions of visitor a year. They have some specific recommendations too.

Calling for a 50-percent reduction in peak the wait times, the USTA believes it should take just 30 minutes to process travelers. They want Customs and Border Protection staffing and participation in the Global Entry Program increased. Congress should be involved in an ongoing way, and should require periodic progress reports, says the association in a list of 20 recommended policy changes.
Back at the TSA, the new system is indeed a step in the right direction, classifying travelers into three tiers — expedited, standard or enhanced — with each level requiring different procedures and qualifiers. The current system treats all travelers the same and is exactly what the Travel Association wants changed.

In an Open Letter to the U.S. Congress, over 70 travel leaders even suggested ways to fund the additional programing necessary to address the problem and increase transparency in the entire process. It’s a lofty goal but one worthy of pursuit: the U.S. economy could lose $95 billion and 518,000 jobs over the next five years due to long security and customs lines at the nation’s airports.

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Airport Screening To Be Faster Thanks To New TSA Program

screening
Photo- Chris Owen

It’s taken a long time but a quicker, more efficient screening process at the nation’s airports looks to be coming into focus. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is planning a new three-tier system for passenger and baggage screening that taps features of ongoing programs to streamline the process.

Based on elements of the best parts of the existing Secure Flight and TSA PreCheck programs, the new system is “designed to increase the number of airline passengers who may be eligible for expedited screening,” says a report in Travel Weekly.

Using that information, air travelers will be classified into three tiers — expedited, standard or enhanced — with each level requiring different procedures and qualifiers. The current system treats all travelers the same.

Under the new system, low risk travelers would be directed to the lanes now used for TSA’s PreCheck program. Shoes and belts stay on. Laptops remain in cases.

Passengers would be screened at the time of booking, and the level of required screening would be embedded in the barcode of the traveler’s boarding pass.
PreCheck expands this year to 100 U.S. airports. This Fall, anyone can join by going through a background check. Participants allow their fingerprints to be file. The anticipated fee is $85.

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German body scanner protesters remove clothes at airport

In Germany, a “fleshmob” of semi-naked activists from the Pirate Party staged a body scanner protest at the Berlin-Tegel Airport, reports Discover magazine. German authorities plan to begin using “Nacktscanners,” or AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology), which uses high frequency radio waves to produce images of a passenger’s naked body, across the country within the next two years.

Here and elsewhere abroad, the TSA and its international partners are increasingly employing body scanners as an airport security measure, so items like explosives, weapons, or drugs can be detected beneath a passenger’s clothing. The use of the scanners has become a subject of much public controversy, ever since the would-be “underwear bomber” was thwarted at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Dec. 25 of last year. Many passengers feel that the use of full-body scanners is a violation of their privacy.

Wired states that the German protesters scrawled comments such as, “Be a good citizen–drop your pants,” and “prosthetic [with arrow pointing to the wearer’s leg],” on their bodies. One flesh-toned-clothed woman bore a sign reading, “pixelated,” referring to the option modest passengers have to request a scanner be programmed to produce a blurred image of their body.

For more information on your rights as an air traveler, Reddit has created Fly with Dignity, a “site-based initiative to inform the public.” Want to personally protest body scanners? National Opt-Out Day is November 24th.

Feds cop to airport scanner porn

The feds are keeping an archive of under-the-flesh security shots. Though the TSA has said in the past that airport body scans can’t be stored or recorded, some agencies are now revealing archives of the revealing. Well, that isn’t true after all, according to CNET:

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

The TSA, it seems, requires all airport body scanners to be able to store images and transmit them – strange for a device that is supposed to do neither for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” Don’t worry, though. The TSA says these capabilities aren’t “normally activated when the devices are installed at airports,” reports CNET.

Translation: “Trust us. We could do something bad … but we won’t.”

So, next time you fly and fear that images of your privates may end up being stored somewhere, consider sticking some “Flying Pasties” to your unmentionables.So, how much security porn has been accumulated? According to William Bordley, associate general counsel with the U.S. Marshals Service says: 35,314 images in an Orlando, Florida courthouse. The device can store up to 40,000 images.

Relax, says the TSA. It’ Constitutional:

“The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events.”

What are “individual sensibilities”? I think I’ll go with Justice Potter Stewart on this one: I know it when I see it.

[Photo credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images]

Decoding TSA security bins

Bin advertising at TSA security checkpoints has been around for a couple years. What’s new is that more airports are rolling out bins that are now labeled with letters and numbers.

I first noticed the stickers in early January when flying from JFK to Seattle. I hadn’t seen the labels when traveling over the holidays, so I wondered: were the stickers added after the Christmas Day underwear bomber made it through the checkpoints?

I contacted the TSA and was told that the stickers, which don’t appear on the X-rays, are placed on the bins by the same companies that manage the ads–not TSA.

Some background: the TSA doesn’t get involved with the advertisers and doesn’t collect any money from the ads. Rather, the program is a direct relationship between the advertisers (Zappos.com, Charles Schwab, Hanes, Amtrak, to name a few) and the respective airport authority. In return for allowing the ads, the TSA gets the use of the bins, stainless-steel tables, and carts.

After contacting the TSA, I was directed to SecurityPoint Media, a subcontractor for the bin-advertising program at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

Joe Ambrefe, the president and CEO of SecurityPoint Media, responded to my questions via e-mail and shared the following info:

1. The labels, known as “tether ID” numbers, were developed in 2001 and first used at a U.S. airport in a 2005 pilot program.

2. The bin stickers were created to improve communication at the checkpoint. In the event you’re pulled aside for secondary screening, the tether IDs are meant to help you identify your belongings. (I imagine saying “D11” is more precise than pointing and saying “That one over there.”) It’s also a way for TSA agents to positively identify bins that require a more thorough search.

3. The numbers, which are captured by overhead security cameras, are unique to each airport and do not repeat. (Let’s assume the security cameras are turned on and recording like they’re supposed to.)

So it seems that while the would-be underwear bomber has made these tether IDs more relevant than ever, this program was already well in the works.

My contact at the TSA tells me that the bin-advertising program recently expanded to New York (JFK, LGA, EWR) and Chicago, with possibly more airports on the way. Participating airports already include Denver, Seattle, L.A., and San Francisco. Apparently airport authorities are fans of the advertising program because the bins are replaced with new ads every 90 days, which means clean, new containers for everyone.

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