US travel group urges overhaul to aviation screening


The Obama administration should adopt a trusted traveler program and order airlines to permit travelers to check one bag for free to make airport screening faster and encourage more travel, said a leading industry group.

The US Travel Association, whose members include hotels, car rental services and amusement parks, worked with security experts to develop recommendations to improve the screening process, which has turned off travelers because of searches seen as invasive and long wait times to get through security.
“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,” Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the association, said in a statement.

The Obama administration has been racing to beef up aviation security after a Nigerian man tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a trans-Atlantic flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2009.

At the same time, officials are facing a backlash from travelers and the industry about having to arrive at the airport hours in advance to clear security checkpoints and going through full-body scanners that show revealing images.

The Department of Homeland Security and its Transportation Security Administration have been looking at ways to speed up screening, noting that screening the bags carried onto a plane instead of being checked costs an extra $260 million.

At the same time, the industry has been trying to prod DHS and TSA to find better ways to more effectively and efficiently screen passengers and their luggage, noting that it would encourage more travel and thus boost the US economy.

To that end, the Department of Transportation should require airlines to include one checked bag in the base fare charged, the USTA urged — an idea that could lead to higher fares or meet resistance from air carriers that rely on bag fees to shore up their balance sheets.

The travel group also suggested that a trusted traveler program be implemented for domestic and international passengers who go through a background check ahead of time, allowing screeners to focus on higher-risk travelers.

TSA Administrator John Pistole told a congressional committee last month that he was considering the idea. TSA screens about 2 million passengers a day.

Additionally, authorities should also allow passengers arriving from international flights and who are considered to be a low risk, be allowed to connect to domestic flights without going through screening again, the group recommended.