Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has become the latest member of Congress to reveal he was mistaken for a suspected terrorist at an airline ticket counter.
The Alaska Republican said he was stopped by an Alaska Airlines representative earlier this month when he arrived at the Anchorage airport for his usual flight to Washington, D.C. After being questioned by the airline and a security agent, Young was informed that his name was similar to a person on a government watch list named Donald Lee Young.
Young said he had booked his name on his ticket as "Donald E. Young." He did not miss his flight, because he arrived at the airport two hours early, he said, but he had a similar experience when he attempted to check in for his connecting flight in Seattle.
"Apparently, the guy [on the list with the similar name] is not a nice person. They had a reason for doing that and this is their job. I wasn't that upset about it," Young said. "It was sort of a shock, though. I'm the chair of the Transportation Committee. I actually behaved myself."
Young said he supported an amendment that would allow travelers to appeal to the government if they are mistaken for a person on a terrorist watch list. The amendment, which passed a House panel unanimously yesterday, also directs the Transportation Security Administration to develop a "timely and fair process" to correct the information.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John L. Lewis (D-Ga.) also said they were flagged by the system earlier this year. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that hundreds, and likely thousands, of ordinary Americans have experienced similar hassles when flying. If a passenger's name appears to match a name on a watch list, the traveler will receive extra security screening and questioning. If the name is similar to one on the no-fly list, the passenger will be prevented from boarding the plane until his or her identity can be verified.
The Transportation Security Administration said the latest incident illustrates the need to update how the government compares passenger names against watch lists. It has launched a new program called Secure Flight that would enable the TSA, not the airlines, to compare names on the watch lists to passenger manifests.
"TSA's goal is to reduce the number of passengers who experience difficulty during the check-in process," said spokeswoman Amy Von Walter. She declined to comment on the legislation passed by the House panel yesterday.
Young said he found what might be a solution to his traveling troubles. Young said he has modified his name on his airline ticket to read "Donald Edwin Young."
"I'm going to try flying this weekend," he said. "It will be interesting."