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Airline Industry Fights Suggested Travel Reforms

This week, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) and a panel of travel and security experts unveiled a plan to improve security at America's airports and reduce the burden on travelers. Unfortunately, the airline industry response was swift and negative, saying the changes were unnecessary and would diminish "customer choice."

Unnecessary? Far from it.

Getting through airport security such an ordeal that more travelers say they are avoiding two to three trips a year, which is costing the economy $85 billion and 900,000 jobs, according to the USTA.

For business travelers, the USTA had a number of good proposals:

1.Travelers be allowed to check at least one bag at no additional cost to their ticket price. The reasoning for that is interesting, and ironic, to say the least. It seems the more the airlines want to charge to check bags, the more carry-on bags (or bags travelers are pathetically hoping will be accepted as carry-on bags) are being brought to security checkpoints to take onto the cabins of planes. So the reason for allowing the one-bag check-in rule? To reduce the gridlock of bags on security checkpoint conveyor belts.

2. The creation of a "trusted traveler" program. We all remember the Clear program run by private industry which failed, and then quietly relaunched last year. The USTA proposal would authorize the TSA to implement a voluntary, government-run program that would embrace a "risk-based" approach to checkpoint screening. It would focus -- or perhaps better put, refocus -- TSA resources on the highest risk passengers. Attention nuns carrying tweezers, you might just get a free pass soon!

3.Reduce duplication of effort for international arrivals, an idea I wholeheartedly endorse. How many times have you arrived at a U.S. airport from overseas, clear immigration and customs, gotten your bags, put them back on the conveyor belt for your onward flight and then...had to clear security all over again? Absurd and ridiculous.

Why these proposals need to be implemented

  • They're smart, thoughtful, and yes, and are obviously needed. Any business traveler would, and should, get behind them.
  • The USTA can argue strongly that there is a huge economic benefit if their proposals are put into practice. But in a more immediate sense, I'm all in favor of the common sense and intelligence behind these proposals.
  • There's no financial risk involved in making them happen. They don't require any additional funding to implement. However, I think many business travelers would gladly pay an additional passenger fee -- say $5 per ticket -- if the government would just not react as the government, but as the economic beneficiaries of efficient, sensible, and robust business travel.

There has been no reaction yet from either the Department of Homeland Security or the TSA to these proposals. but the airline lobby was swift to respond, and it was less than surprising: "Consumers have been the big winners from a quasi deregulated, highly competitive airline industry," said the Air Transport Association in a statement, "and government taking a huge step backward and dictating how airlines deliver and price their products and services, as the USTA suggests, diminishes customer choice and competitive differentiation among carriers."

Customer choice? Right now business travelers can choose to pay for their bags to be checked (with the exception of Southwest Airlines) or struggle through TSA checkpoints with their bags, hoping they'll make it through the screening as well as finding enough overhead bin space on the plane once they board. That's not much of a customer choice.

Do you agree with the USTA's suggestions? What other rules would you like to see implemented in the travel process?
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Photo credit: Flickr user redjar
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