New Rules, New Anxiety

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Two new government initiatives aimed at airline travelers -- one focusing on terror, the other on infectious disease -- have sparked an outcry of concern from many frequent fliers who fear the new rules will lead to increased confusion, frustration and even privacy issues.

Last week, as the Transportation Security Administration announced that travelers could once again fly with their small scissors and screwdrivers, the government agency said travelers would also be subject to random secondary searches again. These include expanded pat-downs, such as those conducted in the early days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In fact, travelers -- along with their carry-on bags -- may be pulled aside for secondary screenings even if they successfully pass through an airport's metal detectors.

Some travelers could also be subject to additional screening based on the way they look. Airport screeners have been trained to look for passengers with such "suspicious" characteristics as shifting eyes and sweating. Even the way they are dressed may single them out. And travelers unlucky enough to be next in line through a metal detector may be pulled aside, as well. It's part of the TSA's efforts to decrease the predictability of airport security.

Just a week before the TSA's changes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to collect detailed airline traveler information, such as e-mail addresses and even the names of travel companions. The CDC is attempting to maintain a passenger database so federal health officials can warn travelers of potential outbreaks of communicable diseases.

Several frequent fliers said they were concerned about the impact of the new rules and regulations.

Henri Manasse, head of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, said he is most concerned about the new airport security measures. Manasse, who flies at least once a week and logs about 140,000 miles a year, said the new security plans -- which go into effect Dec. 22 -- could cause long lines and leave many frequent fliers frustrated and confused.

"My fear with random searches is that the searches become very inconsistent and nonsensical," Manasse said. "After September 11, they were a massive hassle and an unjustified intrusion."

Many frequent fliers would like to pass through security without secondary screening. Security has become one of the biggest deterrents for increased traveling, travelers say. To avoid security hassles, a growing number of frequent fliers has begun taking Amtrak or driving on shorter trips.

Penn State University recruiter Evelynn Ellis said she is most concerned about the TSA's plan to identify travelers for additional screening based -- in part -- on a passenger's attire.

"What a riot: I can take my little scissors now, but I'm searched because I am dressed weird that day," she said. "I don't think any of this will make us a bit safer." Dress that is inappropriate for the season -- such as a heavy coat in summer -- is likely to draw TSA inspection, the agency said.

TSA officials say they have tested the new procedures and found "very little impact" on wait times.

"This will not cause confusion for the traveling public," Kip Hawley, assistant secretary for the TSA, said in a news conference last week. "This is going to be very easy for the customer arriving at the checkpoint to figure what they're supposed to do. We'll make that very, very clear."

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