Three Near-Term Steps
WASHINGTON, DC – Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today issued the following statement regarding the growing airport security-screening emergency and called upon the U.S. Congress and Administration not to shift blame for this soon-to-be crisis to one another and to the airlines. Likewise, the airlines’ “I Hate the Wait” social media campaign is not useful and is likely only hurting demand in short-haul markets by encouraging air travelers to drive. Instead, BTC urged all parties to expend their energies on near-term solutions.
As the nation approaches peak air travel season, the security-line situation at U.S. airports is not yet a national crisis, however, like a major hurricane it is indeed an emergency that could quickly transform into one. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be unable to sufficiently increase agent staffing or deployments of canine teams in time for peak season volumes. Huge numbers of travelers stuck on the non-secure sides of airports is an open invitation to those seeking to cause harm. We urgently require leadership, resources, competency, sacrifice and unity.
The massive press coverage is no doubt causing some to cancel much needed vacations while pushing others to drive to their destinations, a significantly less safe mode of transportation with a corresponding dampening effect on high-yield, short-haul demand for airlines. Leisure travelers already anxious from the negative press coverage are missing flights while their cruise ships set sail. Airlines and airports are facing complex and expensive irregular operations on a near daily basis while hotel and rental car companies face no shows and rebookings, which cost the travel industry and travelers dearly.
Business travelers are missing customer meetings impacting company productivity and revenue. Moreover, a businessperson cannot be very effective, productive and happy if he has to awaken at 2:00am to arrive at the airport at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight. The lack of security screening efficiency and predictability forces a businessperson to choose between scheduling fewer meetings or extending trips and losing precious time with family. Of course, if this emergency is not effectively addressed, then local and regional economies will experience lower levels of commercial activity.
In the larger picture, there are costly resources of time and money being consumed by this national emergency without fixing the near-term problem. Travelers arriving 3 hours before a flight, TSA sending 58 rapid-response agents to O’Hare, airlines holding planes at gates as long as possible and airports setting up cots represent steps to contain but not eliminate the emergency conditions.
We need near-term solutions to significantly reduce the size of this emergency over the summer months. The stakes are very high.
1 - In formal agreements with the states, TSA, along with support from private security contractors, should dispatch trainers into the field and equip National Guard units to be deployed during this peak season as deputized TSA agents and to otherwise increase government presence in non-secure areas. There is a long history of National Guard units working side-by-side with TSA agents.
2 - To encourage travelers to check bags and reduce the number of items TSA agents need to inspect, Congress should pass emergency legislation that would require airlines to reduce baggage fees by 50 percent. Because Congress and the Administration together helped cause this emergency, airlines should be compensated somewhat for the lost revenue but not 100 percent as their fee policies, which did not cause this current meltdown, nevertheless, shifted workload to TSA and consumed scarce real estate at checkpoints. Temporarily reducing that workload would help.
3 - TSA should aggressively expand use of 3rd party security-marketing firms to immediately enroll millions of PreCheck members by offering a 1-year free trial membership available through July 31. Likewise, all airlines should embrace PreCheck and work with TSA and 3rd parties to drive PreCheck enrollments to 20 million members at the top 160 airports.
These steps would be relatively easy to cost out and would significantly improve the efficiency of the system and ameliorate the growing security problem in non-secure areas of airports over the course of this summer. We must all do our parts to prevent this emergency from becoming a crisis. Once through the summer the industry and government must act to fundamentally reform the TSA’s mission, policies, staffing and governance; on this there is nothing to debate.