The furor last fall over new and invasive screening techniques by the Transportation Security Administration, and an avalanche of carry-on bags adding to airport lines, have ratcheted up pressure for change both in Congress and the travel industry.
The federal government would not need congressional approval to mandate that airlines allow one checked bag free. But it is doubtful that the TSA could implement a trusted-traveler initiative without congressional approval.
Adding impetus to the report is the heavyweight panel behind it, headed by Tom Ridge
, former secretary of homeland security, and former congressman Jim Turner (D-Tex.), who was on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Travel industry analysts think the long-awaited report will continue the debate over screening procedures and add another element to it: Even a voluntary trusted-traveler approach would require passengers to provide credit information, tax returns and other personal data to verify that members pose little or no risk.
In return, they would be allowed to zip through security.
The panel also said that airlines should be ordered to drop baggage fees that now typically run from $20 to $100 per checked bag. Passengers carry on far more bags than ever to avoid those fees, creating even longer lines at TSA screening facilities.
Although TSA Administrator John S. Pistole would take issue with some of the panel’s findings, he has advocated moving away from a Maginot Line defense to a more nimble, risk-based approach. The report could help him deal with a risk-averse Congress.
“Pistole has outlined his vision for the future of airport security screening: one that is more risk-based and intelligence-driven, shifting away from a one-size-fits-all approach at checkpoints,” said TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball. “We welcome dialogue with stakeholders and the traveling public as the process moves forward.”
Frustration at new TSA policies boiled over last fall, drawing condemnation from a vocal minority of fliers and some members of Congress, who objected to the full-body scanners and pat-downs.
The proposal of a trusted-traveler program takes the debate through a thicket, pitting the right to privacy against the goal of secure flight. Congress rejected a Bush administration plan known as CAPPS II that would have tapped into credit information to verify passenger credentials.
“The key difference is that the program we’re recommending is totally voluntary,” said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, which commissioned the study a year ago. “Travelers, and especially frequent fliers, would give their right arm for a different experience.”