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"No Safety in These Numbers"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

No Safety in These Numbers
The Lakeland (FL) Ledger

Last week, USA Today reported that the Transportation and Safety
Administration is considering allowing non-ticketed passengers to go through
security checkpoints.

Instead of waiting in the terminal, visitors and family members could wait
for arriving passengers at the airside gates.

Or at least that's the TSA spin on it.

The real push behind the change isn't to reunite families and loved ones
sooner. Nor is it to make a traveler's journey more pleasant and convenient.

The real reason is a more basic one, and reason enough to stop this bad idea
before it goes further: money.

"There are a lot of airports that would like people without boarding passes
to have access to concessions [located beyond the security checkpoints],
Michael Conway, spokesman for the Detroit Metro Airport, told USA Today.

Added aviation consultant Stephen Van Beek, "For airports, it provides
additional nonaeronautical revenue and passenger service."

Detroit began allowing visitors through the checkpoint this week as part of
the TSA's testing program. The same program started at the Dallas-Fort Worth
airport late last month. There, airport officials began pressing for
additional access to the airside for visitors about two years ago. The
airport has nearly 200 concessionaires, most of them located in airside
corridors beyond the security checkpoints.

A TSA spokeswoman said the test was very limited, even at those two
airports. Only guests from the hotels inside the Dallas and Detroit airport
terminals can go through the checkpoints after being screened and checked
against terrorist-watch lists.

Even so, the program will put more people in line who don't have good reason
to be at the gates. TSA baggage inspectors are already pressured enough
without adding an additional burden simply so airport visitors can go
airside for a drink, a sandwich or shopping.

Other airports are already hopping on the bandwagon. Pittsburgh
International Airport sought to have nonpassengers allowed beyond the
checkpoints in 2003, but was turned down by the TSA. It now wants to become
the third airport to allow unticketed people to go airside.

Moreover, even though the pilot program isn't even a month old at least one
travel-associated business wants its customers to have equal access. Steven
Brill is founder of Verified Identity Pass, which runs the Clear program at
Orlando International Airport. For an $80-a-year membership, passengers are
given background checks and an identification system that lets them speed
through checkpoint lines.

Brill told USA Today that his nonflying customers should also be allowed
through the checkpoints because the TSA program "establishes the concept
that people who aren't boarding planes can go through and use the shops."

That, in a nutshell, is why the TSA's plan that will generate what is known
as "nonaeronautical revenue" is not a good idea.

To his credit, Louis Miller, director of Tampa International Airport, isn't
keen about the TSA pilot project. "There is no reason for it," Miller told
The Tampa Tribune. "There is plenty of food and beverage, and shopping,
available on both sides of security."

The TSA has said it will not waive the boarding-pass requirement if doing so
would make lines longer or place less emphasis on security. From a
commonsense standpoint, it's difficult to see how waiving the requirement
would have any other effect.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, only passengers with boarding passes
or rare exemptions (such as nonflying parents putting their children on
airplanes) have been permitted to go to airside gates.

The TSA had a good reason for enacting that regulation in the first place.
It's still a good reason to keep it unchanged.

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