Thursday, August 13, 2009

Flying Is Getting More Personal

Secure Flight begins phasing in Aug. 15

Get ready to get personal with your travel agent, or from whomever you buy you airline tickets.

A change, which is rolling out airline-by-airline but which officially begins to phase in this weekend on Aug. 15, will require that you hand over to the federal government more personal data than ever before in order to reserve a seat on a domestic flight. The overhauled Transportation Security Administration program is required by law, but many consumers haven't heard much about it.

"It's still kinda a surprise and they (customers) will say we haven't heard much about this," said Schaumburg travel agent Sharon Peterson. "We have to ask for birthdates and that has been a little delicate for most of us but we have to tell them the reasoning behind it."

That reasoning is a new TSA program called "Secure Flight," which transfers the responsibility of pre-screening passengers from the airlines to the TSA. Secure Flight requires that airlines get your birthdate and gender so you can be prescreened against a government watch list.

"If consumers do not include this information, they may face delays at the airport, and our goal is to communicate and educate our customers across the board that this day is coming and they are going to have to add this additional information," said Orbitz Vice-President of Governmental Affairs Brian Hoyt.

A major goal of the program is to prevent mismatches like that kind that happened to a Burr Ridge teen last year at the Miami International Airport.

Omar Jano and his mother Martha said that the TSA's mistaken detention of Omar last year -- because his name resembled one on the watch list -- terrified their family. And Jano is not alone. Mistaken detentions have played out thousands of times; most famously perhaps with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. He has been detained six times because his name is close to a suspected terrorist's alias.

Not everyone's convinced that Secure Flight will improve the screening process.

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