Air travelers want 'better alternative' to screening process

Travelers are gearing up for a busy holiday travel week, and for many of them, the security screening process that caused such uproar around Thanksgiving isn't far from their minds.

According to a new survey by the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit industry group, 75 percent of travelers believe there "must be a better way" than the airport screening process used currently. Removing shoes during screening stirs the most anger among travelers, according to the survey, and the Transportation Security Administration's "enhanced pat-downs" come in second -- though the TSA estimates that only 3 percent of passengers undergo pat-downs.

"If look at the words people use to describe the system, 64 percent of travelers said it was 'inconsistent,' 58 percent said it was 'stressful,' 41 percent 'embarrassing,'" said Bob Perkins of Consensus Research, which conducted the survey for the USTA, in a conference call. "You don't get to 'effective' until 23 percent."

The words "intimidating" and "intrusive" headed the list. About one-third of travelers described the system as "fair."

Those surveyed had traveled by air in the last two years, with about half reporting that they have traveled since Nov. 1. The group finished its interviewing of 1,000 travelers just after Thanksgiving. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, according to Perkins.

The USTA has been busy compiling passenger complaints and recommendations to send to a travel association panel that the group created in February, well before the screening hoopla this holiday season. These panel members include former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall. The panel will "study more effective ways and approaches" to the current screening system, USTA President Roger Dow said in the conference call.

"The blue-ribbon panel... will be recommending very clear alternatives," Dow said. Their plan is expected in late January.

About 8 in 10 passengers surveyed supported a type of "trusted traveler" program to provide an alternative screening process for those who submit to a background check and meet other risk criteria. "Absolutely, security trumps everything... the public doesn't want to undermine TSA's critical mission," Dow said. But while the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are doing "the best job they can," he continued, "people think the current system is pretty degrading."

With 54 percent of those surveyed saying they believe Congress should make it a priority to fix air travel security, "Americans are clamoring for a better way, and it should be a wake-up call for our leaders in Washington," Dow said.

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