Tag Archives: security

Again — Who Else Wants A True Registered Traveler Program?

A security line at BWI Airport.  Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A security line at BWI Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been writing about the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts to develop a trusted/registered traveler program since 2006, and the effort to develop one goes back to 2002. So imagine my interest when I read this USA Today story — TSA to expand speedier screening — for a fee.

TSA’s Pre Check program is currently free to eligible flyers.  But TSA Administrator John Pistole now says he wants to expand Pre Check to those who want to pay an $85 fee for five years and undergo a background check. He said that this effort helps the agency move away from blanket screening and focus on screening what they determine are the riskiest travelers.

It’s a complete 180 degree change to what TSA was saying four years ago.  Back in August 2009 during a chat with aviation bloggers (including me), then-Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his agency wanted to be careful that registered travler does not become one that says if one pays more money, they go to the head of the line.  “That is between private vendors and airports. The government shouldn’t give an advantage to the economically well off in air travel,” he stated. “We should be limiting ourselves to focusing on security values.”

And in In July 2007, then-TSA Administrator Kip Hawley spoke before the House Homeland Subcommittee on Transportation Security and said:  ”Just as relying on frequent flyer miles isn’t enough, in the age of the clean-skin suicide bomber, just the absence of a negative is no longer enough. Once we define trusted, that provides a blueprint for vulnerability. And the security risk introduced at R.T. becomes a risk for every passenger, because what we make easy for one becomes easy for many.We need many layers of security to mitigate the risk of defeating anyone. We want to increase the level of security, not decrease it. And after prioritizing our security initiatives based on risk, TSA decided that taxpayer resources are best applied to more critical needs than Registered Traveler.”

The proposed new program, which will start at Washington Dulles and Indianapolis airports in the fall, will look very similar to the wildly popular Global Entry international registered traveler program. I, for one, would pay that very reasonable fee to have a more predictable airport security checkpoint experience.

Does IATA Have The Answer To Better Airport Screening?

 

The security checkpoint at BWI Airport.  Photos by Benet J. Wilson

My former colleague Lori Ranson is a respected freelance aviation journalist. She recently wrote an excellent piece for Mary Kirby’s (another great aviation journalist and former colleague) APEX Editor’s Blog entitled “IATA seeks to restore humanity to airport screening.”

Ranson went into fascinating detail about what the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an organization that represents the world’s carriers sees as the airport checkpoint of the future, first released in 2011.  In a nutshell, IATA wants to bring back the humanity in the screening process, allowing passengers to keep on shoes and jackets, and leave laptops in their bags, among other things.

“COF’s goal is to create a security framework that moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach to procedures built on a risk-management approach supported by optimising and enhancing technology, improving data management, and using biometric identification and behavioural analysis to strengthen security screening, increase check-point operational efficiency and improve the passenger experience at screening checkpoints,” writes Ranson.

When I read this, and read the words “checkpoint of the future,” a bell went off in my head. During almost six years of covering airports and aviation security for Aviation Week and Aviation Daily, that concept became a central theme for the Transportation Security Administration.

Back in April 2008, TSA announced — with a media event at Washington National Airport — that it was unveiling what it called the Airport Security Checkpoint of the Future. We were all shuttled out to an empty hangar, where we saw a mock-up of that checkpoint.  You can read my AvWeek Towers and Tarmacs blog post on that event here.  It was based on a study done by Palo Alto, Calif.-based innovation and design firm Ideo.

The concept was put in place at my hometown Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport about a month later. Elements included things designed to calm the checkpoint process, including: soothing lights; new age music and bird tweets (yes, bird tweets); profiles that personalized TSA screeners; an area to throw out trash and items that couldn’t be taken past security; and more clearly designed queues.  You can hear my 3-minute podcast on my experience going through the checkpoint here.

So IATA jumping into the checkpoint arena is interesting, since this has been the turf of the Transportation Security Administration, partnering with airports.  IATA is stepping up its efforts to test technology that weeds out “known travelers” from those with higher risk factors.  So it will be interesting to see what IATA will be able to achieve by its 2020 deadline. You can see a video on the checkpoint of the future here.

Who Else Wants A Real Trusted Traveler Program?

2445529554_354f17a959_o

The old Clear registered traveler line at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

When it comes to airports and handling security, I sometimes feel like Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day.”  It just seems to me that we keep seeing the same variations on programs that will allow trusted travelers to get through airport security with less of a hassle.

On Thursday, Politico published a story, “TSA background-check contract stirs interest.”  In the story, the reporters note that although the Transportation Security Administration hasn’t made a formal announcement, it has put out feelers for companies interested in doing background checks for travelers who apply for the Pre Check program.  Currently, only those who are frequent travelers of participating airlines or members of existing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI  are eligible for Pre Check.  But Pre Check is currently a random process.

According to the Politico story, TSA wants to expand Pre Check and allow what they call low-risk travelers to go through checkpoints and allow screeners to focus on higher potential threats.  To that end, the agency is reading through white papers submitted by private companies who want the business.

I find two of the names touted in the story quite interesting.  First is Clear, the original registered traveler company.  It was unveiled as a pilot program in July 2005 at Orlando International Airport.  Back then, passengers paid $99 a year for a biometric card that gave them a separate security checkpoint line that would get them through lines more quickly.  The program was championed by Congress, but TSA was very slow to embrace the program despite taking it out of the pilot phase in January 2007.

One of the big benefits of Clear was using scanning machines that allowed passengers to keep on their shoes and jackets and keep laptops in their bags.  But TSA halted use of the machines, saying they needed more testing.  The price of the card nearly doubled but TSA continued to stymie the program, stopping background checks on Clear users in 2009.  Then it started requiring RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.

The second company mentioned in the article was The Chertoff Group, owned by former Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.  In a chat with aviation bloggers (including me) back in August 2009, Chertoff said in my Aviation Week post that DHS wants to be careful that RT does not become one that says if one pays more money, they go to the head of the line, Chertoff observed. “That is between private vendors and airports. The government shouldn’t give an advantage to the economically well off in air travel,” he stated. “We should be limiting ourselves to focusing on security values.”

In July 2007, then-TSA Administrator Kip Hawley spoke before the House Homeland Subcommittee on Transportation Security and said:  “Just as relying on frequent flyer miles isn’t enough, in the age of the clean-skin suicide bomber, just the absence of a negative is no longer enough. Once we define trusted, that provides a blueprint for vulnerability. And the security risk introduced at R.T. becomes a risk for every passenger, because what we make easy for one becomes easy for many.We need many layers of security to mitigate the risk of defeating anyone. We want to increase the level of security, not decrease it. And after prioritizing our security initiatives based on risk, TSA decided that taxpayer resources are best applied to more critical needs than Registered Traveler.”

And so now it appears the pendulum is swinging yet again, with TSA looking at the subject of a true trusted traveler program.  So it will be interesting to see what TSA’s next move will be once it finishes reviewing the white papers on an expansion of Pre Check.  So watch this space!!

 

Today, I’m With TSA

tsa_logoI have been watching the voices coming out strongly against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) over a decision to allow small knives onboard aircraft.  And I am siding with TSA on this issue.

Say what you want about the agency — love them or hate them — they are here to stay.  They have a job to do, and there are times when I agree with their mission to maintain the security of the country’s national transportation system.

I agree with TSA Administrator John Pistole that his agency needs to focus on larger threats like explosives detection.  “A small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft and an improvised explosive device will,” he told CNN. “And we know, from internal covert testing, searching for these items, which will not blow up an aircraft, can distract our officers from focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.”

My thought is in a post-9/11 traveling world, passengers, flight crews and air marshals (when available) will — and have — intervene when a traveler crosses a line, as illustrated over the years in my “Strange But True Aviation News” Friday posts.  We’ve seen it in cases ranging from attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid to the case of the JetBlue Airways pilot who had a breakdown.

But I do take issue with the decision to also allow travelers to carry up to two golf clubs, certain toy bats or sports items including ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and pool cues. Those are all items that can do serious damage, and passengers may not be able to stop someone wielding them as quickly.

Frankly, I prefer to have TSA screeners looking for items that can be real threats to an aircraft.  So, what do you think? Please take my poll.

Best of Aviation Queen: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips For Women (And Men)

Editor’s note: I’m in Nashville attending the Women in Aviation International convention, so its a bit hectic. But please enjoy this blog post, originally written on June 30,2011, which was also a session at last year’s convention.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of moderating an online forum — Safety and Security: Threat Mitigation for the Traveling Businesswoman — for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). This is a topic near and dear to my heart, especially after the theft of my wallet in New York City earlier this month, which I blog about here.

The presenter (who was fantastic) was Katie Colberg, who works as a travel security management consultant at MEDEX Global Solutions. We also heard from Caroline Bryan, a Gulfstream G550 captain and safety adviser and Terri Fuhrmann, a supervising flight attendant coordinator. These women, along with participants on the webinar, came up with some great safety travel tips. Below, I summarize the top 10. Enjoy!

  1. Put a scanned copy of your passport on a memory stick. I love this one, because paper can get lost. I always have a thumb drive in my purse and on my key chain.
  2. Ask for specific rooms in hotels. You want one away from the stairwell, between the 2nd and 7th floors and near the elevators (noisier, but safer).
  3. Wear an inexpensive wedding ring. I have a family ring I wear that when turned around, looks just like a wedding ring. You are less likely to be approached if you seem to be married.
  4. Carry a small flashlight and lighter in your purse, and pack a candle. I do all three — the flashlight is for dark spaces; the lighter is to light the candle (which doubles as a room freshener) and other assorted things.
  5. If you leave the television on in your room and leave, turn it on to a local channel when traveling outside the country. A potential mischief-maker is less likely to target a person they think is a local.
  6. Pack extra food and water. In the case of the Mumbai hotel attacks, some guests were trapped in their rooms for up to three days without food or water.
  7. Carry a “Go Bag” and keep it with you at all times. The bag should contain ID/passport, meds, important phone numbers, a pen, paper and batteries. Colberg says that with this bag, if you have to leave your destination quickly, you can.
  8. Your luggage tag should NOT be a business card. Colberg recommends having one that’s covered, and it should only include your first initial, last name and the address of your office, if possible.
  9. If you should be attacked, fight dirty. Women are advised to yell loudly, make a scene. Kick/attack spots including groin, knee caps, eyes and the nose, where you can do major damage.
  10. If you’re lost in an unfamiliar place, be street smart. Approach families or women with children to ask for directions.

There were many more, but you have other blogs to read. But I’d love it if you would share some of your favorite travel tips!