Industry Unites to Oppose DHS Exit Rules Mandate

Twenty major global, regional and national trade associations, ranging from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the National Tour Association (NTA) and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), have joined forces to combat the United States' proposed Exit Rule that would require cruise lines and air carriers to pay for the fingerprinting of foreign visitors exiting the U.S.

The groups say that the current rules proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would impose a $12.5 to $14 billion cost burden on the industry and create havoc with processing passengers. The groups are urging Congress to take steps to prevent DHS from “pursuing this unworkable proposal.” They argue that immigration and border control are government responsibilities, not private sector functions, and that managing the Exit Rule program is the government’s job.

Steve Richer, public affairs advocate for the NTA, told Travel Agent that the industry-wide coalition finds the proposed rule unreasonable. “Essentially they are offloading one of the DHS’ responsibilities on the airlines and cruise lines, including collection of fingerprints,” he said. He sees this slowing down check-in processes for each international flight (and cruise), creating more delays. There are also serious privacy questions and doubts about training of carrier staffs.

The move is opposed not only by IATA, NTA and ASTA, but also by the U.S. Air Transport Association (ATA), the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), the Association of European Airlines (AEA), the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and the Airports Council International (ACI). The group also believes that DHS has underestimated the costs by not including non-gateway airports as well as the costs of building new networks to transmit data.

“Effective security is an industry-wide concern,” Richer says. “But sectors of the travel industry can’t afford it, especially the airlines. The airlines now face high fuel costs and, at least in the U.S., the threat of airline capacity cuts. We are asking Congress to intervene with the DHS.” The DHS has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the issue, Richer notes.

According to Richer, the DHS proposes to enhance this system to include the real-time pre-screening of foreign passengers against criminal databases and terrorist watch lists. This could place airline employees squarely in the "arrest and apprehension" mode. He also says that the DHS proposal is not compatible with the privacy protections other countries guarantee their citizens.

Other groups opposed to the DHS policy are the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), the Regional Airline Association (RAA), the Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA), the Student Youth Travel Association (SYTA), the American Bus Association (ABA), the Association of Latin American Airlines (ALTA), the Air Carriers Association of America (ACAA), the Receptive Service Association (RSA), the National Air Carriers Association (NACA), the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), the International Air Carrier Association (IACA) and the Arab Air Carriers Association (AACA).

Richer said the size and scope of the group opposing the DHS policy is virtually without precedent. “It underscores the concern of industry stakeholders on a global basis," he said. "It impacts agents, carriers and passengers. The group also underscores what we believe is a trend to improve greater cooperation and consensus building among industry associations. This will be basic to communicating our legitimate economic and security interests.”