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The hassle of going through security screening before a connecting US flight is poised to end for some inbound international passengers.
Proponents say the change, tucked into an annual defense policy bill (H.R. 7776) that’s slated for Senate consideration by the end of the week, could free up strained security resources and alleviate passenger frustration.
The pilot would authorize the Transportation Security Administration to allow passengers and their bags from six foreign airports to bypass security rescreening.
TSA, which is struggling with a staffing shortage, is currently required to screen passengers and their luggage after arriving on international flights before boarding a connecting flight, even though they’ve gone through security screening abroad. The agency’s challenges have grown as passengers traveling through TSA checkpoints have started to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“This effort will both strengthen and streamline security procedures, while allowing for more efficient resourcing of Transportation Security Officers,” John Katko (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and the sponsor of the standalone bill (H.R. 4094), said about the pilot.
The program could reduce connection times and allow airports to put security resources where they’re needed instead of rescreening people, Keith Jeffries, a former federal security director at Los Angeles International Airport, said.
“This will free up some of those resources to put them where they’re actually needed in the layered security process,” Jeffries, who is now vice president of K2 Security Screening Group, said.
The foreign airports that participate would need security standards comparable to those in the US, the bill text says. The measure doesn’t specify the six airports; it would be up to the TSA administrator or the secretaries of State or Homeland Security to approve agreements.
‘Full of Friction’
The pilot could lead to a more permanent change. The bill requires a report on the program to be submitted to Congress within five years on the benefits and challenges of the program, and the feasibility of expanding it.
“We currently have a system full of friction,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the US Travel Association, who added that she once missed a flight because of a tight connection where she had to pick up her luggage. She said the pilot offers an opportunity to see “what a more seamless travel experience may look like in the future.”
A slow return is projected for international inbound travel as hurdles continue, with a full recovery not expected before 2025, according to a recent US Travel Forecast. Advocates of the program, which include major airport and airline groups, say it would make that travel more efficient.
“With resources constrained and international travel returning, it’s important to undertake additional efforts to make international to domestic travel more seamless and secure,” said Joel Bacon, executive vice president for government and public affairs at the American Association of Airport Executives.
Some airports had been looking into this concept with TSA before the pandemic as a means “to eliminate screening redundancy and improve passenger facilitation,” according to a letter of support for the pilot from AAAE in the Congressional Record last year.
Other Travel Support
The pilot program was previously included in an omnibus tourism bill (S. 3375) that still awaits action in Congress. That package would also establish an assistant secretary for travel and tourism at the Department of Commerce, as well as set a national tourism strategy and visit goals for international travelers to the US.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s tourism panel and cosponsor of the legislation, said senators are looking to put the tourism package in a year-end spending bill, which is still under negotiation.
“We’re working on all cylinders to get it done. Indications look good for us to push it over the finish line,” said Rosen, whose state is home to tourist mecca Las Vegas.
TSA is also asking Congress to increase security personnel pay, warning of a wave of retirements and longer airport lines if the officers, who make about 30% less than their counterparts in other federal agencies, don’t get more money.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org