Business Travel

Scanners Just One Part of Fliers' Hassles

There’s no escaping the fallout as officials step up security to protect airports and airlines.

More bad news for business travelers: Air travel will be more unpredictable than ever. Though most new security measures will be aimed at overseas venues, the heightened attention to airport security everywhere is sure to mean many more flight delays and cancellations. In just the last few weeks, planes have been diverted because of unruly passengers or suspicious packages, and when a man was spotted entering through an exit door at Newark Liberty International Airport on Jan. 3, reportedly to see his girlfriend, thousands of passengers had to go through security screening again. Flights were grounded for six hours.

New security measures will include more full body scanners. The number of scanners, which cost about $150,000 each, is likely to reach almost 350 this year, up from the 40 already in use at 19 facilities throughout the U.S. Security concerns will trump privacy issues, though civil libertarians won’t give up quietly. The promise of catching another “underwear bomber” provides a compelling impetus to install the scanners. “They won’t catch everything, but they will catch more than metal detectors,” says Spencer Dickerson of the American Association of Airport Executives. Public relations efforts will seek to reassure travelers that they have nothing to fear from the scanners.

Reviews under way by the Obama administration will likely bring on more security changes. Both the management of the “watch list” and overall airport security are being scrutinized.

A renewed push to resurrect the Registered Traveler program is likely, but don’t look for a revival anytime soon. Key members of Congress are keen to revamp the program, with deeper background checks. Business travel groups support it. Carol Hallett of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it is “imperative” that the program be restored. She also supports passenger profiling. “Until there’s a profiling system, we will never get a handle on this problem.” But skeptics of RT abound, including the airline industry and government security officials.

The best advice to travelers: Allow as much time as possible when traveling by air and know your options in case you get delayed, such as other flights, driving or taking a train instead, and nearby hotel availability.

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