Getting Smarter About Airport Security
How the Incoming Administration Can Help Keep Flyers Safe
Record numbers of holiday travelers flooded airports in December, and those numbers will likely only go up in the coming years. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did an admirable job moving passengers smoothly through checkpoints during the holiday rush.Unfortunately, though, rising passenger numbers and the increasingly complex global security landscape could soon complicate those efforts. Events like the recent, tragic shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport have revived debate in Washington about the future of airport security in the face of evolving threats.
The new administration and Congress, though, present opportunities for positive and much-needed change. Just this past November, the U.S. Travel Association released a report highlighting what lawmakers can do right away to improve security while giving travelers a better flying experience: “Transforming Security at Airports: An Update on Progress and a Plan for the Future of Aviation Security.”
Our plan is essentially a roadmap to better airport security—and the incoming Trump administration can begin to implement its recommendations right away. From common-sense funding adjustments to expanded trusted traveler programs to airport risk mitigation, here are a few ways our new policymakers can hit the ground running and make real change for flyers in their first 100 days.
Smarter Funding Means Smarter Security
One of the report’s top recommendations is a simple one: stop spending TSA fees on unrelated programs.
In 2013, TSA fees were raised under the Murray-Ryan budget deal, but under current law, more than one third of those fees are diverted from the TSA to the General Fund until 2025. This means that last year, travelers effectively paid more than $1.6 billion in extra fees for the same security services. Rather than make travelers foot the bill for non-travel-related programs. Congress should reverse this diversion and allow TSA fees to exclusively fund aviation security improvements.
While we’re on the subject of funding: airport terminals need to expand and modernize to allow for better flow of passengers through TSA checkpoints. How to help our cash-strapped airports, and do so without a new hit on taxpayers and the treasury? That one’s easy: modify the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge, a per-segment user fee set and controlled by local airport authorities. It’s good for airports, communities and taxpayers alike.
Assess Security of All Airport Perimeters
As the tragedy in Fort Lauderdale has demonstrated, pre-security points in airports (baggage claim, ticketing areas, arrival zones) are unfortunately what many call ‘soft targets.’ Despite this obvious vulnerability, the FBI and TSA have only conducted perimeter security checks at about 19 percent of commercial airports in the U.S., according to a recent GAO study. GAO has stated that the FBI and TSA should assess 100 percent of commercial airports. U.S. Travel concurs with GAO, and recommends that TSA develop a system-wide method for assessing gaps and potential vulnerabilities in these pre-security checkpoint areas, and use it to check every single U.S. commercial airport, every year.
Make TSA PreCheck More Accessible to Qualified Travelers
I am an unabashed fan of TSA PreCheck. TSA’s flagship trusted traveler program, which allows thoroughly pre-screened flyers to bypass long airport security lines, has grown significantly this year alone. And why shouldn’t it? TSA PreCheck is an unqualified boon for both the passenger experience and security.
However, millions of likely qualified travelers have not signed up for TSA PreCheck, deterred by a variety of factors that lawmakers can and should address. For example,at $85 per person for five years, TSA PreCheck is a fairly cost-effective option for the average individual adult, but is potentially out of reach for families with children. Volume discounts or reduced fees for children could greatly improve enrollment among traveling families, a group that would certainly benefit from a more efficient security process. Streamlining the application process, as well, is easier than one might think—we believe that TSA PreCheck application should require only one form of identification as long as it is REAL ID-compliant.
Focusing on the “Four P’s” —prioritization, promotion, price and process—through steps like volume discounts, fee policies for children and sensible ID requirements could help the TSA meet its goal of enrolling 25 million travelers in PreCheck by 2019. The sooner TSA reaches this goal, and the more pre-vetted travelers are screened each day, the more quickly all travelers move through security checkpoints, leaving fewer people gathered in unsecured areas of airports. Have I mentioned the hundreds of millions of dollars TSA PreCheck expansion has saved the government? It’s a win-win for all.
Read U.S. Travel’s full report, “Transforming Security at Airports: An Update on Progress and a Plan for the Future of Aviation Security.”