You may have heard that the TSA has issued a new set of regulations for airlines and passengers, which went into effect on November 1, 2010. While most of the news coverage about the switch has been focused on what will be happening from now on as you navigate the process of booking your flight and being cleared through security, we’ve noticed that the TSA itself is recommending that passengers who already have flights booked for departure dates after 11/1 take some action to be sure they’re cleared under the new Secure Flight guidelines.
What is Secure Flight? In a nutshell, it’s a program that seeks to more accurately reconcile your personal information with the information on your photo ID (which we all know you’ll be presenting ad nauseam as you wind your way through the lines leading to your gate). The goal is to match those sets of information and cross-reference them against the No Fly lists in a consistent system, to streamline the process and make it more accurate overall. The TSA is now going to be taking over the watchlist system from the individual airlines, in a move to benefit passengers; the theory appears to be that if you’ve only got one agency consistently checking your identification, there’s a smaller margin of error. What the TSA seems to be hoping is that there will be fewer mistaken identity cases like the ones that have captured headlines since 9/11, in which we’ve all heard of a baby or some other clearly innocent passenger being barred from a flight because of their supposed appearance on the terror watchlists.
The good news is that if you haven’t already booked a flight, you’ll simply need to provide some basic personal information during your booking process. The only caution here is to be sure that you are looking at your ID when you give that information — if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got two or three ways in which you might state your name (I use my maiden as a middle name, but am not hyphenated, giving me a host of confusing choices about how to present myself). The TSA will be checking to make sure that the information given at the time of reservation is an exact match to the ID you present at the airport, which means that any glitch — in my case, using the middle initial only instead of the full name, or leaving it out altogether and giving only first and last — will delay you and possibly prevent you from getting on your flight. Boarding passes will only be issued, from now on, to passengers whose identifying information has passed the TSA’s test, so providing incomplete or incorrect information will mean that your boarding pass remains safely in the hands of the airline, not in yours.
However, if you have a flight coming up and have already made your arrangements, you should call your airline immediately and talk with a representative about the Secure Flight Program. Ask how you can submit the required identifying information for the program on your existing reservation. While it’s theoretically possible, according to the TSA, to run the security check in a matter of minutes, right up until your departure time, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable testing that theory. Call the airline or booking agent as soon as possible, tell them you’d like to provide all the information for the Secure Flight Program, and get your proverbial ducks in a row well in advance, so that when you arrive at the airport for your flight, you’ll be certain that you’ve done everything you can to help make the process of clearing security as hassle-free as possible.
For more information on the Secure Flight Program, visit the TSA’s official website.