A screener checks the documents of a couple at the security checkpoint at… (Rick Bowmer / AP )
Reporting from Washington — Bothered by select air travelers who get to move faster through airport security checkpoints?
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is.
He has introduced legislation that would bar airlines and airports from giving passengers, often first class and elite frequent fliers, preferential treatment on security lines.
“This bill is about fairness,’’ Nelson said. "Regardless of whether you have a first-class ticket or have reached a certain frequent flier status, the purpose of the airport security screening line is to ensure traveler safety. Allowing a select few to cut in front of those who are waiting patiently, just in order to provide a perk, has nothing to do with safety.’’
All passengers pay the same fee in their airline tickets to cover the cost of the TSA screenings regardless of ticket class, according to a news release from Nelson announcing the legislation.
His bill, while prohibiting airports and airlines from establishing "expedited security lines for specific categories of passengers,’’ would allow the Transportation Security Administration to operate fast-track screening programs. This includes the pilot PreCheck program that allows pre-approved travelers to move faster through the screening process.
But not everyone welcomes Nelson’s Air Passenger Fairness Act.
"Our members, me included, will do just about anything to minimize the time it takes to get through security--up to and including upgrading our tickets so that we can speed through what is otherwise a very degrading and slow process,’’ said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for airline passengers, in an email.
Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a San Francisco travel industry research company, said the measure would "penalize people who help keep the airlines in business.''
"If airport security becomes slower, business people will travel less," he said in an interview. "It will harm the entire air transport industry."
Steve Lott, spokesman for the industry association Airlines for America, said, "If the problem is long security lines, let’s all work with TSA on improving their efficiency.’’
Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, said that he likes the bill, though he noted that he has never received a complaint about air travelers who get to move faster through security checkpoints.
"I think everybody pretty much understands when you fly first class, you’re getting what you paid for,’’ he said. Leocha said he thinks the issue will become moot, however, when TSA's PreCheck program becomes available nationwide.
The legislation is the latest to deal with air travel issues from frequent flying members of Congress, who are often lightning rods for complaints and eyewitnesses to airport problems while traveling between their districts and Washington.
Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would turn over all that loose change left by harried travelers at checkpoints --$376,480.39 in the 2010 fiscal year, to the USO for its airport programs in support of the military. The STRIP Act, or Stop TSA's Reach in Policy Act, would prevent Transportation Security Administration officers from wearing law enforcement uniforms and police-like badges and calling themselves officers unless they receive law enforcement training. Another piece of legislation would allow airline passengers to check a bag for free. Many of the bills are long shots.
Nelson’s bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for consideration.
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