Aviation Security Update

Bob Poole’s Aviation Security Update is always interesting. The most recent issue (dated January 7, 2004) is not yet online, but I’d expect it to be available shortly.

Some useful snippets:

    Hassle Factor Takes Its Toll on Short-Haul Flights

    (…)While full-year 2003 figures are not available yet, a recent comparison of second quarter 2003 with air travel in 2000 showed that overall traffic (passengers per day) on all routes was down by four percent. How much of this overall decline is due to the economy and how much to the “hassle factor” can only be guessed at. But when Ed Smick of SH&E crunched the numbers for the top 100 short-haul markets, he found traffic there had declined by 21 percent. And for the top 10 short-haul markets, all but two showed declines of between 26 and 36 percent.

    The concentration of the decline in short-haul markets suggests that the new security regime is largely to blame. Having to add an extra hour of pre-flight time to a one-hour airline trip starts to push door-to-door time for these 200-300-mile trips much closer to driving time. Add to that the post-9/11 security fee, which is a much bigger fraction of the ticket price for a Los Angeles-Las Vegas trip than for LA to New York, and the picture becomes clear.

    And there’s yet another unintended consequence of pushing would-be air travelers onto the highways: more deaths and injuries. Several reputable studies have found that since driving is far more dangerous than flying, this kind of mode shift kills and maims. (This has been carefully studied in the case of proposed mandates that parents purchase a separate ticket for infants instead of holding the little one on a lap; there’s good evidence that enough price-conscious parents would switch to driving in the face of such a mandate as to make overall travel deaths go up.)

    Interest in Screening Opt-Out Increases

    Frustrations with the level and quality of passenger and baggage screening provided by TSA are leading a growing number of airport directors to consider opting out of TSA-provided screening. Opting out becomes possible for all airports as of November of this year, under the provisions of the 2001 legislation that federalized airport security and created the TSA. In the interim, five airports have been taking part in a pilot program, using TSA-certified security contractors. The five are San Francisco, Kansas City, Rochester, Tupelo, and Jackson Hole.

    SFO reports that it gets a call “at least once a week” from another airport asking about its experience in the pilot program. “And every Category X airport has called.” Category X is a federal designation of various large airports considered to be at greatest risk; there are 21 such airports (accounting for about 29% of all originating passengers). At the other end of the scale, small airports, too, are expressing interest in opt-out. For example, at last month’s airport security conference of the American Association of Airport Executives, the director of the Salisbury, MD airport expressed concern that, due to TSA screening cutbacks, his airport will not be able to handle flights that span 14 hours of the day (which means two shifts for TSA agents). So he, too, is exploring opt-out.

    Steve Van Beek, senior vice president of Airports Council International-North America, cites two main reasons for the growing airport interest. First, the quality of security could be improved if screeners were more under the control of the airport; they could be cross-trained to do tasks such as perimeter security and access control during non-peak hours. This would relieve some of the tedium and repetition involved in doing just screening all day. Second, a non-TSA workforce should be more flexible, adjusting better to the peaks and valleys of daily flight activity but also being able to be expanded or contracted during the year as airlines add or drop service. This would cut the length of security lines, reducing the hassle factor, and probably cut costs, as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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