TSA no-fly list continues to be a source of waste of effort -- and embarrassment

Published 9 January 2006

More than 28,000 people were mistakenly added to the no-fly list; more recently, even toddlers have found it difficult to get on board

Last week we reported [see issue of HSDW 1.6.06]>of a tenacious if misguided Houston, Texas airport screener who stopped Edward Allen, age four, and asked to see an ID. The reason: Allen’s name was on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) terrorist no-fly list. It took about three hours and many phone calls to persuade airport security that the name belonged to an adult by the same name, and that four-year olds do not typically carry an ID. Several weeks ago, Sarah Zapolsky had the same problem with her nine-month-old toddler. The child’s name — which the mother and the authorities would not reveal — came up on the no-fly list when the mother tried to board a plane at the Cumberland, Pennsylvania airport. Again, it took several hours and many phone calls to Washington, D.C. to persuade security screeners that the nine-month old child was not the individual with the same name appearing on the no-fly list.

TSA officials say no children are on any terrorist watch list and so that screeners should not be subjecting anyone under age twelve to multiple security checks. It is not only children under twelve: More than 28,000 thousand U.S. citizens who discovered they made the no-fly list when they were stopped at airports, successfully applied to have their names removed from the list. TSA removes their names and also provides each one with an official letter they should carry with them when traveling. The trouble is that the updating of the lists at the many U.S. individual airports is haphazard at best, so that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), and former “Ozzie and Harriet” star David Nelson, among many others, complain that screeners keep pulling them aside for inspection whenever they travel, although their names were supposed to be removed from the no-fly list long time ago. Story


Last September TSA abruptly stopped the pilot Registered Traveler program after several problems were discovered in the project. The travel and hospitality industries, and their allies in Congress, have been pressing TSA to revive it that because they believed that excessive waiting time at airports’ security lines were depressing travel. Registered Traveler would reduce security lines at airports because it would allow passengers who were prescreened to bypass them. Such passengers would voluntarily submit to background checks, offer biographical information, and provide biometric information which would be embedded in their travel documents. Those wishing to be part of the program would pay a fee to cover their screening costs. A pilot program at Orlando International Airport last year charged $79.95 a year and found the cost at the low end of what travelers would be willing to pay to participate. The estimate is that about six million frequent fliers would join, according to the American Association of Airport Executives.

Members of Congress expressed concerns about having the program run by private companies, especially with regard to whether these companies would protect the personal information they gather. Civil rights and privacy groups share that concern.