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Four airports to test expedited screening for frequent fliers

The idea is to pre-screen travelers who pose little security risk, making the process faster for all passengers. Participating airports are in Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and Dallas.

July 18, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • A TSA pat-down at LAX
A TSA pat-down at LAX (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

A plan to let pre-screened frequent airline passengers — such as business travelers — bypass the regular airport security checkpoints and instead zip through an expedited screening process will be tested this fall in Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and Dallas.

Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole announced the details of the test program in a conference call with airline executives last week.

The idea behind the pilot program is to pre-screen travelers who pose little risk and remove them from the general screening lines, making the process for all passengers move faster.

The program initially will be open only to a small number of people, including some frequent fliers and U.S. citizens who have been pre-screened to travel abroad under existing U.S. Customs and Border Protection programs, Pistole said.

During the test phase, the expedited screening lines will include frequent fliers from Delta Air Lines flying from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County airports. American Airlines frequent fliers will be eligible for the program at Miami International and Dallas/Fort Worth International airports. The program will be free to participating passengers.

Expedited screening lanes have been promoted by business travelers and the travel industry. But critics have called for the TSA to come up with a new security process that moves faster for all low-risk passengers, not just frequent fliers and business travelers.

Pistole didn't say how long the pilot program would last or when it might be expanded to other airports.

No bag-check fee on lost bags

Under new passenger protection rules that take effect next month, airlines must refund your checked-baggage fees if your bag is lost.

But the new rules adopted by the U.S. Transportation Department leave it up to the nation's airlines to determine when a bag is declared lost — or merely delayed.

Because the agency does not require airlines to reimburse baggage fees when luggage is delayed, some passenger advocates fear that airlines will try to get around the new law by simply declaring that every misplaced bag is delayed, not lost.

Checked-baggage fees — ranging from about $15 to $45 for the first bag — are a big money maker for the airline industry, generating $3.4 billion for the nation's airlines in 2010.

But airline representatives say the new law that takes effect Aug. 23 should cause no major problems because the nation's airlines receive less than four reports of lost, delayed or damaged bags for every 1,000 passengers. Airlines already are obligated to compensate you for lost or damaged luggage.

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Assn., the trade group for the nation's largest airlines, said he is sure that airlines won't use delay tactics to avoid reimbursing the checked-bag fees.

"No airline is going to let this drag on for weeks and months," he said. "Most airlines know their systems well enough that after a reasonable time, they will reach an agreement with their passengers."

Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, a nonprofit advocacy group for airline passengers, does not share Lott's confidence. She fears airlines will use the vague language in the law to avoid paying back the fees. "I have zero faith that the airlines will reimburse the money," she said.

The U.S. Transportation Department warned last week that it could fine airlines that don't resolve lost baggage claims in a timely manner.

"We regard a carrier's ignoring baggage claims or making consumers wait an extended time for final action to be an unfair and deceptive practice, and will take enforcement action," agency spokesman Bill Mosley said.

Overdo the junk food on vacation? Survey says …

If you overindulge while on vacation, you are not alone.

In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. travelers, 81% said they are more likely to overindulge on food on vacation than at home. And 55% said they are more likely to drink more alcohol while on vacation.

The survey, by travel website TripAdvisor, also found that 61% of women and 47% of men diet in preparation for a vacation. What's more, 54% of women and 48% of men said they have started a "post-vacation" diet after a trip.

The top food vice for travelers? Ice cream was the biggest indulgence among 29% of travelers surveyed, while 10% named fried seafood, and 7% said cake.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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