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Keith Alexander

A Common Name Can Be a Curse

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page E01

James Rogers is a Bethesda attorney. Mary Smith is a political economy major at Georgetown University. And Kevin Johnson is a pop music critic from St. Louis.

Catching a flight has become a headache for all three frequent fliers because they have common names that resemble entries on the government's "no-fly" list.

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They have been stopped at airline ticket counters and even missed flights as airline employees checked databases to be sure the travelers weren't terrorists. And they are among readers who responded to an invitation to share their no-fly experiences with Business Class.

The federal list has come under increased scrutiny lately because of celebrities stopped at the airport. Yusuf Islam, the pop singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, was barred from the country because his name is one of 20,000 on the list. And politicians, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, were stopped because their names resembled those of someone on the list.

Many others who aren't famous are just as frustrated, like Rogers, Smith and Johnson and the more than 2,000 people who have complained about such mix-ups to the Transportation Security Administration.

For such travelers, the first sign of trouble often comes when they try to use airport ticket kiosks, the ATM-like machines that save travelers time by allowing them to avoid the lines at the ticket counters. Each time they swipe a credit card to obtain a boarding pass, a message pops up telling them to see one of the airline's ticketing agents.

Rogers said he was "tagged" by the machines twice in August and later held up at the gate after airline agents told him he was on the no-fly list. During both trips, Rogers was returning to Washington on a one-way ticket after he helped drive his daughters to college.

The first time, Rogers said, an Independence Air agent at the Nashville airport told him he was flagged because there was a James Rogers on the no-fly list. The same thing happened a week later on Southwest Airlines.

"There are a lot of James Rogers out there," said Rogers, a frequent flier on United, American and US Airways. "I have a high degree of skepticism of the maintenance of these lists."

Rogers was able to make both of his flights, but other readers say they missed their flights while airline employees disappeared behind a partition for a lengthy review of the travelers' identification.


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