Travel group to pressure Congress for airport security reforms

A travel industry group will begin a campaign for changes in airport security Wednesday with an effort to marshal public support to put pressure on Congress.

The U.S. Travel Association plans to use advertising in airports and newspapers and Internet advocacy in an effort to reform security tactics it says frustrate many travelers and persuade more than a few not to fly at all.

“It’s one thing to put an idea forward, but it’s another to follow through,” said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the group which includes a spectrum of travel businesses ranging from airlines and airports to hotel corporations. “We’ve invested too much time in this to let it die on the vine.”

The centerpiece of the association’s reform proposal is creation of a trusted traveler program that would allow pre-qualified passengers to move more swiftly through airport checkpoints.

It is similar to several reforms being entertained by Transportation Security Administration head John S. Pistole, who has advocated a more risk- and intelligence-based approach.

The travel association wants Congress to endorse those ideas to give Pistole greater freedom to move in that direction.

“What TSA can do is really limited based on the ground rules Congress sets,” Freeman said. “Shifting to a risk management approach and the simple act of creating a trusted traveler program will open many doors.”

Freeman’s group landed the groundwork for its effort with a report from a panel headed by Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security, and former congressman Jim Turner (D-Texas), who was on the House Homeland Security Committee.

The report recommended creation of a voluntary trusted-traveler approach in which passengers could enroll by providing fingerprints, credit information, tax returns and other personal data to verify that they pose little or no risk.

Members would enter a kiosk where either fingerprint or iris scanning technology would be used to confirm their identity. Both the passenger and carry-on bags would pass through an explosives-detection device, but there would be no requirement to remove shoes, coats or hats.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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