When the Washington Redskins flew out of Dulles International Airport last weekend for their game with the New York Giants, the Transportation Security Administration's chief operating officer, Jonathan Fleming, was there to see them off -- not as a fan of the football team, but to monitor a pilot program loosening security procedures for professional sports teams flying on chartered jets.
The Redskins players and coaches didn't have to go through all of the metal detector, X-ray and other screening procedures required under current rules as they boarded their chartered jet, operated by UAL Corp.'s United Airlines.
"We're running a pilot to see if there's a benefit" to creating new rules for sports teams, said TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield. The program is with United, he said, and the Redskins "just happened to be the first one."
Current security rules for chartered flights differ depending on the aircraft size. Operators of smaller planes, such as Learjets used by corporate executives, must ensure only that criminal history checks have been conducted on the flight crew and that access to the flight deck is restricted. Those flying larger jets, such as ones used by professional sports teams or vacationers on cheap trips to the Caribbean, must "ensure that the aircraft is free of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries before the individuals board," according to the government rules.
Hatfield said the TSA is considering whether chartered flights for sports teams, which usually include the same passengers, could abide by rules that are less stringent than those that apply to large planes.
The Redskins and other professional sports organizations contacted yesterday said they had not asked the government to relax charter rules, even though some sports leagues complained when the rules were put into effect after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
"We didn't ask for anything," said Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson. "The TSA asked us if we'd be part of a pilot program. I assume it's because we're based in Washington and it's easy for them."
The idea for loosening the charter security rules came up at a meeting at the agency's operational center in Virginia this summer with major professional sports leagues, TSA officials said.
A spokesman for the National Football League did not recall that the topic was mentioned. "We certainly, as a league, did not ask for any uniform modifications to the law," said Greg Aiello, spokesman for the league. "However, that's not to say an individual team has not asked for some different solution to conform with the law."
Major League Baseball, each of whose teams has 162 regular-season games a year, half of them on the road, raised questions about the security procedures earlier. But an official yesterday said the league did not ask the TSA to get rid of the rules.
"We thought sports teams obviously would be less threatening just for the very reason about the same group traveling together," said Kevin Hallinan, senior vice president for security and facility management for Major League Baseball.