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Traveler's Aid: Reality Check -- Airline Security (3/15/2002)

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Diana: As flight attendant Elliot Hester describes, there are plenty of things that can go awry on a flight. But, often, the problems start before you take off. Last week, we talked about the ID problem. Airlines say passengers must have a government-issued ID. But how do you get a government ID for a 5-year-old, for example? One option we mentioned is a non-driver ID, available from your DMV. But some listeners e-mailed us and said, "My state won't give a non-driver ID to anyone under 16." Good point. Let's check in with Travel-Expert-in-Residence Rudy Maxa on the ID issue. Hi, Rudy.

Rudy: Hi, Diana.

Diana: Okay, Rudy. Non-driver IDs. What's the scoop?

Rudy: Well, state laws vary. New York State, for example, doesn't have an age restriction, although parental consent is required for kids under 16. For details, check with your DMV. It's probably best to get a passport. It'll cost you $40 for kids under 16.

Diana: Thanks for clearing that up. And now, Rudy, I want to share some scary statistics I ran across this week about security breaches. Get this -- between Oct. 30, 2001, and March 7th, 59 airport terminals have been evacuated, forcing nearly 2,500 planes to be delayed. Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta says the government's goal is "no weapons, no waiting, no more than 10 minutes at the security point."

Rudy: Wouldn't that be nice. Unfortunately, it's a ways off. Diana: My point exactly. Which is why this week, 6 months after Sept. 11th, I thought we'd do a Savvy Traveler Reality Check. Let's compare what we've been told about airport security with what's actually happening. First up: all those new security screeners. Where are they?

Rudy: The Transportation Security Agency hasn't hired a single screener yet. It will probably start in May, and will have to hire 5,000 screeners each month to make the Nov. 19th deadline.

Diana: Next up: bomb-detection. All airports are supposed to have the new screening machines by the end of the year.

Rudy: Not gonna happen. We'd need an additional 2,200 machines. It's doubtful the few companies that make them could actually crank out that many -- as is, no airports currently have the technology to thoroughly examine all checked baggage.

Diana: How about those 10-minute wait times Mineta promised?

Rudy: Wait times are shrinking. Regional airports are returning to normal more quickly than hubs. Airlines are adding more security lanes, and telling passengers to arrive an hour before departure, -- not two hours. In the meantime, the government has hired Disney experts to find ways to make waiting in line fun.

Diana: Iris scans and other biometric technologies at security checkpoints. Pipe dream or reality?

Rudy: Reality. Virgin Atlantic frequent flyers are participating in an iris-recognition screening program that gets them through passport control at Heathrow without ever talking to an immigration agent.

Diana: The National Traveler Identity card proposal?

Rudy: The government is now evaluating the idea. No word on when -- or if -- it will be implemented. Airlines like the idea.

Diana: What's your sense of how the flying public feels about all this? Does the concern for safety outweigh the hassles, or is there a backlash brewing?

Rudy: Well, stories about 3-year-olds getting patted down tend to weaken public confidence. A recent poll shows 8 percent of flyers are not willing to put up with longer delays and more intrusive searches. Passenger demand is down 11 percent compared to year-ago levels. And, the FAA says industry should rebound within a year.

Diana: Thanks, Rudy. Whaddaya say we help the industry rebound with a Deal of the Week.

Rudy: That's coming up a little later in the show.

Diana: Great. Talk to you in a bit.

If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.
Savvy Resources:

How Stuff Works: Airport Security

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