U.S. Travel Association Urges Improved Efficiency at Airports

The economic damage inflicted by the current inefficiencies in the passenger screening process was addressed by U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, who testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs today. Dow offered support of one checked bag as part of the base fare of an airline ticket and cited the increased costs of security as a challenge to the industry.

"For the travel community – which supports rural and urban communities alike – inefficiencies in the aviation security screening process impose a staggering cost on the economy, hampering job creation and economic growth," said Dow. "And the data suggests that the problem is getting worse."

Additionally, Dow addressed reforms that should be made to the aviation system to stimulate the economy; improvements for the TSA's recently created trusted traveler program, PreCheck; reconstitution of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee; and steps to decrease the number of carry-on bags.

"Congress and TSA must find ways to encourage fewer carry-on bags," said Dow. "The recent trend of most airlines charging separate fees for every checked bag has resulted in airline passengers 'carrying on' substantially more baggage per person. The increased volume of carry-on baggage is causing significant checkpoint congestion, negatively impacting security, and causing significant strains on TSA personnel and resources."

"The numbers speak for themselves. The New York Times recently reported that TSA screened an estimated 59 million more carryon bags in 2010 than in 2009. TSA also estimates that carry-on bags processed at the checkpoints will have increased by about 87 million from FY 2010 through FY 2011 and continue to increase by about 29 million more in FY 2012," Dow said.

Citing the recommendations of a blue ribbon industry panel, Dow offered support. The panel proposed to deal with this problem by " requiring that airlines include one checked bag as part of the base fare of an airline ticket. This would give passengers the option to check a bag that the security checkpoints are not overwhelmed by continued increases in carryon luggage. It is important to note that under the panel’s recommendation, passengers would not be entitled to a free checked bag. Airlines would be able to cover the costs of checking one bag in the base fare of the ticket and set that price to whatever level they desire. "

Dow's testimony also addressed the costs of the Transportation Security Administration.

"The budgetary costs of TSA are also ballooning at a time when we are looking for ways to be more fiscally responsible and air travel is expanding. Since 2004, TSA’s overall budget has increased by 68 percent. During the same time period, passenger levels have remained almost the same – with 618 million air passengers in 2004 and 623 million air passengers in 2010. This current trend cannot be maintained as TSA is spending more money each year to screen the same amount of passengers. And the problem will only get worse. The FAA now predicts that in 10 years (by the year 2021) there will be 1 billion U.S. air travelers per year."

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