Air travel today is synonymous with long lines on top of longer lines, luggage checks, and shoe searches. And that's under normal circumstances. When the nation is on high alert, security is even tighter. What can a meeting planner do to keep attendees informed and prepared?
For one, be aware that security will be tighter when the country is under “orange,” or high alert, so travelers may want to arrive earlier than normal. During orange alerts, more security guards and law enforcement personnel will be at airports, and there may be additional security screens, such as random vehicle inspections or secondary screening checks, says Ron Sokolov, executive director for customer service at the Transportation Security Administration, Washington, D.C.
If air traffic in January was any indication of the effect of orange alerts, then people have grown accustomed to the new reality. American Airlines saw no major decrease in bookings or jump in cancellations because of the December/January code orange, says Tim Wagner, American spokesman. Delta Air Lines experienced an increase compared to January 2003 traffic.
The other good news is that the TSA, airports, and airlines have made enhancements to reduce delays and improve the flow of human traffic. “We strive for consistency at all the airports where we provide security,” says Sokolov, so that travelers know what to expect at the more than 400 U.S. airports serviced by TSA. For example, TSA is looking to consolidate all security checks to the initial screening area, eliminating additional inspection at the gates.
The “double walk-through” is another improvement that's intended to pick up the pace. If a passenger sets off the metal detector at the checkpoint, he or she can remove the objects and walk back through instead of being flagged for secondary screening.
TSA is also planning to introduce a “Trusted Traveler” program that would allow fliers who meet security requirements to pass through screening more promptly. The program would be voluntary, and applicants for a trusted traveler card would go through advance screening. Details have not been worked out yet, says Sokolov.
To speed things up, airlines now offer alternatives to ticket counter check-in lines, allowing customers to get boarding passes and check bags curbside as well as at self-service kiosks. Some airlines permit customers who are not checking bags to skip on-site check-in altogether by getting their boarding passes over the Internet.
Tips for Travelers
Planners can help attendees get to their meetings on time by passing along the following air travel tips, compiled from various sources, including the Airport Transportation Authority, TSA, and Ron Sipes, account development manager at American Airlines, who recently led a session on the subject at a Professional Convention Management Association meeting held in January in Indianapolis.
- Arrive on time
Without baggage, the suggested arrival time for a domestic flight is 60 minutes before takeoff. With checked baggage, it's 90 minutes. Get there two hours early for an international flight. These suggested times are flexible depending on the time of day and the airport. Generally, security lines are longer during peak travel times — 6:30-9:30 a.m. and 4:30-7 p.m. — so plan accordingly.
- Know how to pack
Passengers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item (purse, computer, backpack, etc.). In your carry-on, don't pack prohibited items (see www.tsa.gov for a list). Keep in mind that security agents will break open locks if they need to, and they aren't liable for damages if it's done for security purposes.
- Be ready at security
Passengers should have their boarding passes and identification in hand. Also, wear slip-on shoes and pack all metal objects (keys, change, jewelry, etc.) in your carry-on. Finally, laptops must be taken out of cases and coats must come off (suit jackets and blazers do not generally need to be removed).