Eliminate The Airport Security Line Emergency Before It’s An Economic and Security Crisis
One step now, one step later
WASHINGTON, DC – Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today responded to the growing airport security-screening emergency and called upon the U.S. Congress and Administration to not shift blame for this soon-to-be crisis to one another or 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 urges all parties to expend their energies on one immediate and one strategic solution.
As the nation approaches the beginning of peak air travel season this weekend, 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. Encouraging more checked bags is not a solution according to top executives at major airports with whom BTC has spoken. Huge masses of travelers are now stuck on the non-secure sides of airports, which is an alarming Brussels Airport-like invitation to those seeking to cause harm and destruction. We urgently require leadership, competency and unity.
The massive press coverage is no doubt causing some to cancel
or postpone 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 air travel.
Leisure travelers, already anxious from the negative press coverage, are
missing flights while their cruise ships set sail. Numerous 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 consumers 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 family time.
Of course, if this emergency is not effectively addressed, then local and regional economies will experience lower levels of commercial and economic activity. Indeed, a just-released survey by U.S. Travel found that 21.8% of those planning travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day will travel by other means, delay trips or forgo them altogether. Lost travel spending, according to U.S. Travel, could total $4.3 billion for the summer peak season.
We need one high-impact, near-term solution to significantly
reduce the size of this emergency over the summer months. The stakes are very
TSA asserts that the solution is PreCheck. Yes, PreCheck security lanes can produce on average 3 times the passenger throughput as regular security lines. However, a disastrous enrollment process produces a chokepoint for program success and is why there are only some 3 million members versus the many more millions that TSA planned would be enrolled by Memorial Day thus enabling a smooth air travel summer.
Those consumers who do apply for PreCheck membership can wait 2 to 3 weeks for an enrollment appointment. Then they must arrive for an interview with proof of U.S. citizenship and provide a fingerprint for FBI background-check purposes often at enrollment centers on the secure sides of airports, which requires an airline ticket. Additionally, many airports do not have enrollment centers and other enrollment centers are in hard-to-find locations such as seaports. Finally, enrollees can wait weeks more for approval.
The solution is to scrap the off-putting and grossly inefficient in-person enrollment process and replace it with a process which is exclusively online and that could enroll millions of members in weeks once green lighted. TSA requires a FBI background check. However, 3rd party security firms that offer online enrollment use felony records and all manner of terrorist watch lists, which are just as predictive as FBI checks. There is broad industry and government support for this approach. Indeed, many at TSA, where this process has been successfully vetted over the past 2 years, are supportive. The just-replaced head of security at TSA blocked this online PreCheck enrollment model.
Many experts tell BTC that PreCheck must reach 10 million new members quickly if we are to make a material difference in reducing security lines and eradicate the growing and urgent security problem in non-secure areas of airports. We must unite and avert an economic and security crisis this summer. Money is not the problem, the current enrollment process is.
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 TSA - its mission, operations, policies and governance; on this there is little to debate.