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Safe travels and the Transportation Security Administration

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posted February 27, 2018
The Thanksgiving and December holiday travel seasons are consistently some of the busiest times for airports, airlines and travelers—and for the Transportation Security Administration. TSA reported that the Sunday following the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday was the fifth-busiest day TSA has had since its establishment following the September 2001 attacks, with over 2.6 million passengers and airline crew members going through TSA screening.

During the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday (Nov. 17–26), TSA screened more than 21.6 million passengers and crew members. The agency predicted that through the December holidays and the new year (Dec. 19 to Jan. 2) more than 34 million people would go through TSA screening procedures. 

Due to this high volume of passengers facing stricter TSA screening procedures, concerns had been raised regarding long security lines. One reason for those concerns was that passengers are now required to remove electronics larger than a cellphone from their carry-on bags. However, TSA reports that 98.1 percent of the 21.6 million Thanksgiving travelers waited less than 20 minutes in TSA checkpoint lines. 

The TSA PreCheck program and various apps also help travelers minimize their waits in airport lines. For example, the Mobile Passport app, valid at 24 U.S. airports, asks passengers to set up a profile based on their official passport and then answer a series of brief questions about their trip. The app then submits this information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which allows passengers to swiftly pass through customs. 

While speed is a concern of TSA, safety and security of the traveling public are the ultimate priorities. TSA Administrator David Pekoske, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in June 2017 and then confirmed and sworn in in August, has stated that terrorism threats to aviation remain present. He credits enhanced security screening measures and TSA canine teams with keeping travelers safe over the recent holiday season. 

NTA is a strong supporter of the TSA Modernization Act (S. 1872), cosponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune, R-S.D.; Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. This act would establish funding levels for TSA from 2018 to 2020, establish a five-year term for the TSA administrator and expand the TSA PreCheck program to expedite passenger screening. 

Also on the legislative agenda is the reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security, something that has not been accomplished since DHS was established 15 years ago in 2002. The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act (H.R. 2825), which passed the House in July 2017, would authorize several TSA pilot programs, including automated identity and document verification and the use of biometric identity verification for those enrolled in PreCheck. Provisions within the bill would direct TSA to study access points and response guidelines to improve airport facility security. The bill would also require TSA to have certain numbers of canine explosive-detection teams active at airports. 

While the major holiday travel season is behind us, the safety and security of travelers remains a concern and a priority for both the travel and tourism industry and for the U.S. federal government. As Congress moves forward with its TSA Modernization Act and with the reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security, NTA remains engaged to ensure that the TSA continues to improve its operations and so that our priority of travel security is addressed.

Signal Group is a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm retained by NTA to advise members about travel-related issues and legislation.

Top photo by CC Flickr/Andrew Pillous: