A majority of American travelers describe the nation's airport security system as inconsistent and stressful and support the idea of creating faster security lines for frequent travelers who divulge personal background to the government, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The results of the U.S. Travel Assn.'s online survey come as the travel industry begins to rebound from a deep recession-fueled slump. Industry leaders fear that public frustration with airport security measures may keep some Americans from traveling.
"It's a problem that if not addressed will affect us all," said Roger Dow, chief executive of the association, the trade group for the nation's travel industry.
The survey, taken between Nov. 29 and Dec. 10, was designed to gauge public perception of the nation's air travel security system. It questioned 1,000 Americans who traveled in the last two years, including a smaller group that traveled in the last 30 days.
The survey was conducted by New York-based Consensus Research Group and included a nationally representative sample of U.S. business and leisure air travelers 25 or older.
Many of the survey findings were not surprising, considering the uproar over new security measures adopted at the nation's airports in the last few months.
For example, 75% of travelers said there needed to be more passenger-friendly screening procedures. Also, more than half of the people who have traveled in the last 30 days called the current security procedures "inconsistent" and "stressful," according to the survey.
But the survey also produced some unexpected results.
For example, the survey found that 37% of travelers objected to removing their shoes at security checkpoints, a greater share than those who opposed undergoing a pat-down search by Transportation Security Administration officers (31%) or who disapproved of going through a full-body image scanner (25%).
And, despite the public outcry over enhanced security procedures, 71% of travelers said that the cost of flying — not heightened security measures — was the top reason they would fly less in the future. Less than half (45%) said the hassles of flying would keep them from flying more. In fact, only 22% of people who have traveled in the last 30 days specifically cited "invasive security scanning" as the reason they planned to fly less in the future, according to the survey.
When asked what ideas they would support to improve airport security, most travelers (65%) backed the concept of creating special security lines for Americans who travel frequently, have no criminal records and submit personal background information in advance of a flight.
It is not a new idea. The International Air Transport Assn., the trade group that represents the world's airline industry, suggested a similar idea last week. The TSA tested the idea in 2005 in a pilot program that allowed travelers who provided their personal information in advance to bypass the regular security lines.
Dow said his group had assembled a panel of experts to make recommendations for improving the airport security procedures. Those recommendations are expected to be released next month. Said Dow: "From an industry standpoint, we want the best security possible."