TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the no-fly system occasionally causes problems because the airlines are responsible for identifying passengers who show up on the list.
"Administration of the list clearly needs to be changed and consolidated to be government-managed," Hatfield said. "This points out the weakness in having the names checked against passengers at hundreds of different airlines at thousands of different airline counters across the country."
The TSA has been working on a system for screening airline passengers that it says will improve the no-fly list. But the plan has been delayed by technological challenges and privacy concerns and the agency has not said when it will be ready.
US Airways declined to comment on Kennedy's experience, though it acknowledged that he is a well-known traveler on the airline. Two years ago, Kennedy helped persuade US Airways officials to reinstate the airline's "executive service" at Reagan National, which allows VIPs to be escorted to private lounges by airline employees.
About the no-fly list, the airline said yesterday in a written statement: "If passengers are identified for screening, that is a TSA decision and not up to the individual airline."
The TSA said passengers who have been tripped up by the list can contact the agency's ombudsman and obtain a letter to show airline and security officials that they have been cleared.
David C. Fathi, who said he is apparently on the no-fly list, obtained such a letter but said it hasn't done him much good. "By the time I show the letter, it is already too late," he said.
Fathi, a U.S. citizen of Iranian ancestry and an ACLU attorney, said he has been stopped seven or eight times at airports, but not on every flight. Once he was led from the counter by armed police and questioned extensively at the airport.
"There really is a no rhyme or reason" to getting delayed, Fathi said. "It illustrates the ridiculousness of the system. If it stops them because they're on the list they should stop them every time. Not every third time."