By Erin Delmore
In a final push before summer recess, Congress made moves to increase airport security, decrease wait times and reimburse passengers for mishandled luggage. With Senate approval Wednesday, the bill to fund the FAA through September 2017 heads to President Obama’s desk.
The bill calls for enhanced security: doubling TSA teams outside the security perimeter in response to recent airport bombings in Istanbul and Brussels.
“We’re not going to be able to stop an attack once the person has already determined to give up his or her life, to take someone else’s life, but we could minimize the number of casualties by providing another perimeter, layer of security, on the outside of the terminal before people even enter that airport,” said Manny Gomez, founder and president of MG Security Services.
Congressman Donald Payne Jr. opposed the bill because of stricter background checks for airport employees that would dig 15 years into the past.
“I am concerned about the jobs that would be lost of residents of Newark and people in that area based on this poison bill that was added to the bill,” he said.
That provision comes on the heels of a suspected “insider threat” that downed a Russian airliner over Egypt last year. Investigators believe a bomb was smuggled aboard.
An investigation by the Associated Press tallied 345 security breaches at more than 30 U.S. airports between January 2004 and February of this year. The rate increased to one every 10 days over the past four years.
“So if this person was able to do that, with no training and no direction simply by accident, what can a trained terrorist with multiple resources and a will to kill do in a similar situation?” asked Gomez.
The TSA is handling an influx of summer travelers, thanks to falling gas prices and a rebounding economy. The bill calls for the TSA to hire a marketing firm to promote enrollment in Precheck — a program that allows travelers vetted in advance by the TSA to enter expedited security lines.
“It really is a benefit because it gives you that assurance that you’re going to get through the checkpoint quickly and easily and it saves you the hassle of having to take off your shoes and divest those items out of your carry-on luggage,” said Michael McCarthy, regional public affairs manager for the TSA.
A bit of good news for travelers: the legislation calls for passengers to be reimbursed for checked bag fees when luggage has been lost or delayed by more than 12 hours for domestic flights, 15 for international flights.