Business travelers dodged a big flight delay bullet last month when Congress passed legislation allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to shift funds around so that it could stop furloughing air traffic controllers. But as the federal budget cuts mandated by sequestration continue to kick in, travelers could be facing a couple of more bullets in the weeks and months ahead: Longer lines for Transportation Security Administration screening at airports, and longer waits to clear Customs and Border Protection inspections for returning international travelers.
Air Travel News
Since its inception in 2011, the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck trusted traveler program of expedited security inspections has expanded to 40 U.S. airports — although it has only been available to participating travelers on domestic flights. But now that’s changing, TSA announced.
Travelers who belong to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry trusted traveler program — which costs $100 to join — love the fact that it allows them to speed through immigration formalities when re-entering the country. But now there’s a new alternative to make things a bit faster for other travelers.
The Transportation Security Administration said some airline participants in its PreCheck trusted traveler program are beginning to notify passengers on their boarding passes about their eligibility for the expedited screening procedure; meanwhile, another airline is planning to join the program in a matter of weeks.
“By notifying passengers of their TSA PreCheck status, passengers are better able to route themselves to the TSA PreCheck lane for expedited screening,” the agency said in a blog post. Previously, the eligibility information was included only in the bar code on the boarding pass, which had to be scanned by a TSA staffer, who would then direct the passenger to the PreCheck lane.
So far, the notifications are in use by Delta, United and US Airways; TSA said other airlines in the program — i.e., American and Alaska — would be adding the capability soon, once they are “operationally ready."
Delta passengers will see the TSA PreCheck indicator on mobile boarding passes, at-home web check-in and on boarding passes printed at airport kiosks; United flyers will see it on at-home web check-in and “select” kiosk-printed boarding passes; US Airways participants will see it on mobile and at-home web check-in boarding passes, TSA said, adding that “some types of boarding passes may not support the TSA PreCheck notification feature at this time."
Members of the frequent flyer programs of the five participating airlines are allowed to apply for TSA PreCheck eligibility, which lets them go through a special screening lane at the airport where they might not have to remove shoes or belts, or take laptops or liquids out of their carry-ons, thus completing the screening process faster and more efficiently.
In other news, Virgin America Airlines said on its website that it expects to make PreCheck participation available to members of its frequent flyer program beginning this summer.
“Once we start participating in TSA PreCheck, the Virgin America team will contact eligible Elevate members with a personal invite to participate in the initiative. Then, if you participate, we’ll identify you as a TSA PreCheck participant when submitting your Virgin America reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system,” the airline said.
For more information on Virgin America’s upcoming participation in the program, go to http://www.virginamerica.com/vx/tsa-precheck
Now that the Federal Aviation Administration has resumed full staffing at its air traffic control towers thanks to quick Congressional action, there is speculation that the agency might also put off its planned closing starting in June of 149 airport control towers that are staffed by contract personnel.
The Transportation Security Administration was supposed to implement a policy change last week that would have allowed air travelers to carry small pocketknives and some other previously prohibited items onto an aircraft — but the agency changed its mind in the face of strong opposition.
TSA chief John Pistole said in an email to employees that the policy change was being put off pending further talks with industry stakeholders, including airlines, some of which had opposed the plan since it was announced last month.
The agency had originally said passengers would be allowed to carry on “small” pocket knives — i.e., knives with non-locking blades that are less than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch wide. Passengers would have also been allowed to carry on ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks, pool cues, up to two golf clubs, and small novelty bats and toy bats. TSA noted that the eased regulations would still prohibit razor blades and box cutters, as well as full-sized baseball, softball and cricket bats.
According to TSA, the proposed changes represented “part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows Transportation Security officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher-threat items such as explosives.” It noted that the changes also align TSA’s policies with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.
But with the postponement of last week’s start-up of the new policy, it was unclear when — or whether — it would be implemented.
One of the biggest opponents of the change was the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, representing 90,000 cabin attendants. The group had even created its own advocacy website on the issue, at www.NoKnivesOnPlanes.com. The policy change was also opposed by pilots and some politicians.
“Like any agency, before TSA changes a rule it is legally required to issue a notice of rule-making, to allow all interested parties the opportunity to submit comments, and to fairly consider that input. If those procedures are followed, we have no doubt that the Administrator will conclude that knives have no place on our planes and will leave the rule barring ‘weapons’ in place,” the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions said in a statement after the postponement became known.
The flight attendant group said it is “working diligently” with several members of Congress on legislation that would “permanently keep knives off planes.”
The Global Business Travel Association also applauded the postponement of the policy, saying it will “allow TSA to work closely with industry stakeholders to solicit input and shape policies and procedures to keep the traveling public safe. It will also allow us time to work with the travel management community to discuss and prepare for any necessary changes that travelers may experience.”
A new consumer survey conducted for the Travel Leaders travel agency group found that 73 percent opposed the plan to allow pocket knives on board aircraft.
Teams of Boeing engineers fanned out across the world last week to begin installing fixes to the 787 Dreamliner’s troubled lithium-ion batteries, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave its final approval to the company’s redesign of the battery system.
The same Congress that decided to impose across-the-board federal spending cuts voted late last week to end the pain inflicted by one of those cuts — specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration’s furloughing of air traffic controllers, which took effect on April 21 and led to a sharp increase in flight delays nationwide.
A flurry of news reports at week’s end indicated that Boeing’s troubled 787 Dreamliners could be cleared as soon as this week to return to the air, but also that U.S. travelers are now facing the prospect of significant delays as the Federal Aviation Administration begins to furlough air traffic controllers.
Boeing has finished the required testing of its redesigned lithium-ion battery system for the grounded 787 Dreamliner and sent the results to the Federal Aviation Administration, and there seems to be a growing optimism in the industry that the troubled plane could return to commercial flying in a matter of weeks.