Monday, April 5, 2010

Modern-day Air travel mysteries . . .

Sometime between our flight to Honolulu in January and our flight home in February we apparently landed on 'a list'. 
        What list?
        And why?
We likely will never know, but we had an 'ah-ha!' moment when the airline's customer service agent I spoke with prior to our Santa Barbara trip provided a phone number for Homeland Security.

The good news - it seems - is that whatever we were on, we are now off according to the form letters we each received from Homeland Security (DHS)  last week in response to our application for a re-dress number.  We apparently don't need one.

We suspect our brief encounter with DHS was related to the implementation of the Homeland Securities' Secure Flight 'behind the scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching.' (quoting their website). 

The Secure Flight program requires passengers (when purchasing tickets) to supply:
  • Name as it appears on government-issued I.D. when traveling
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Redress number if available
The intent of the program (implemented Aug. 2009 for domestic flights and Oct. 2009 for international) is to prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft and to identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening.

One of the questions on the DHS Q and A list is: 
How do I know if I am on the No Fly list? 
Answer: " If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass his/her name is not on the No Fly list."

And that is how we came to investigate this topic:  we couldn't print out our boarding pass - as simple as that. We've always printed them in advance of our flights, but after being told by the computer screen that we had to check in at the airport for the last two trips we've taken we suspected a pattern was developing.

In Honolulu I called our airline and received assurances that the reservation was fine, and the flight not over-booked. 'So, what's the problem?" I asked.  "It could be you are using a companion ticket," was the answer, referring to the reduced-air-fare perk given annually for using that airline's credit card. We've used companion tickets for years. . .never had that problem before.

Next day we were denied boarding passes by the self-service machines at the Honolulu Airport as well.  At the checkin counter the clerk called for a supervisor, who glanced at the computer screen, swept up our passports and headed back into the labyrinths of the airport.  Many minutes later she returned and said we were good to go.

We joked about which one of us had made 'the' list.  It was funny until we tried to print the Santa Barbara tickets the day before our flight and received the same, 'must check in at the airport message'.  That's when I again called the airline and was referred to the Homeland Security number.

DHS has a simple process:  Following the prompts I requested forms be faxed for us to complete in order to be issued a re-dress number. They were faxed within minutes of the call and mailed back the next day. We each received a letter a week ago saying a review of applicable records had been made at our request and where it was determined a correction was necessary it was made. 

Jim Kennedy, signator on the TRIP letter, wrote, "Based on our analysis of those persons who have applied for redress through DHS TRIP (Traveler Redress Inquiry Program), more than 99 percent are not on a Federal watch list."

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