Treating all passengers like terrorists, along with excessive baggage fees, could be taking $85 billion a year from the U.S. economy. Image: CC Dean Shaddock/Wikimedia Commons

Airport security and baggage fees have gotten so out of hand that millions of people are discouraged from flying, according to the U.S. Travel Association. A USTA report released March 16 recommends that the Transportation Security Administration should stop assuming every airline passenger is guilty of terrorism. To further speed airport screening, the USTA also recommended that airlines be required by law to allow passengers to check their first bag for free.

Frisking old ladies hurts the economy

Preflight screening procedures and baggage fees have created a negative attitude toward flying that costs the U.S. economy about $85 billion in lost consumer spending, according to the USTA. The USTA and a panel of experts that includes former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge recommended creating a TSA “trusted traveler program” that would maximize airport security and minimize the hassles of the passenger screening process. The USTA report, “A Better Way,” suggests an airport screening system that is “more risk-based and intelligence-driven, shifting away from a one-size-fits-all approach at checkpoints.” The report cites a survey that concluded American travelers could fly two to three more times a year if airport screening was more efficient. Those extra flights would increase consumer spending by $85 billion and create 900,000 jobs.

USTA: Stop treating travelers like terrorists

The TSA trusted traveler program would allow frequent fliers to volunteer personal information such as a background check in exchange for less rigorous preflight screening. Under the present system, the TSA screens more than 628 million airline passengers every year. Every single one, from toddlers to the elderly, must remove shoes, walk through metal detectors or full-body scanners and face a possible pat down. In the USTA report, Ridge said “If you want to find a needle in a haystack, you shrink the haystack.” Under the TSA trusted traveler program, passengers designated as a low-risk could have their identity confirmed with biometric information such as a retina scan or fingerprint and breeze through the checkpoints.

Bag fees enrich airlines, clog screening lines

Since most airlines started charging more fees for checked-in baggage, air travelers have been carrying more bags and clogging passenger screening lines. Government data showed that the top 10 airlines made $906.4 million in baggage fees in the third quarter of 2010. The TSA panel said the government should order airlines to drop baggage fee for the first bag, which currently run from $20 to $100 per bag. When the USTA released its report, the Air Transport Association, a group representing big airlines, issued a statement calling the panel’s recommendation “a huge step backward,” that “diminishes customer choice and competitive differentiation among carriers.” Regardless of what the airlines think, the federal government could mandate that airlines allow one checked bag free. But USTA said the TSA trusted traveler program would likely need congressional approval.

Sources

CNN

USA Today

Washington Post

MarketWatch

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