House voting to ease airport screening for troops

November 29, 2011 - 4:45 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military travelers on official duty would get a special preference to move through airport security checks faster under a bill before the House.

Lawmakers plan to vote Tuesday on the bill, which would give the Homeland Security Department six months to devise a new system. Passage would send the bill to the Senate.

If the legislation becomes law, the earliest beneficiaries would likely be troops returning from Afghanistan next year and their family members — who also would receive preferential treatment.

The government already has initiated, and is expanding, a more intelligence-driven trusted traveler program for civilians. Participants include travelers in American and Delta airlines' frequent flier programs as well as people who are part of three other programs. These people volunteer more information about themselves so that the government can vet them before they arrive at airport security checkpoints.

Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., chief sponsor of the bill, said it takes longer for men and women in uniform to pass through security because of their gear. Allowing them through security more quickly would speed up the waiting time for those not part of a preference program, he said.

While Homeland Security would establish the new preferential system, Cravaack envisions troops not having to remove boots, belt buckles, bulky military jacks and uniform medals. Troops could go to the front of the line, or a separate line could be created.

"This falls in line with the pilot program" now under way," Cravaack said. "I was an airline pilot for 17 years. We would go to the head of the line. I saw people who were not exactly happy with that.

"But the main emphasis is expediting troops going through a security process that wasn't made for them."

The Transportation Security Administration is currently testing a trusted traveler program at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami. The program will expand to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul over the next few months.

The civilian program allows participants to go to a dedicated lane. The traveler will provide the TSA officer with a boarding pass that has information about his or her status embedded in the barcode. A machine will read the barcode, and if the traveler is deemed part of a "low-risk" category, he or she will likely be able to keep on belts, shoes and jackets and leave laptops and liquids in bags when going through the screening process.

In addition, TSA on Nov. 15 began a test at the Monterey Peninsula Airport in California, allowing members of the military to present their Defense Department identification card for scanning. The experiment is only to see if the scanning system works, however, and there is no change in screening procedures.

Although it's a policy, not law, the TSA already makes some accommodations to service members.in uniform with a proper identification card.

They are not required to remove their shoes or boots unless they set off an alarm. Family members can obtain gate passes to accompany departing troops or meet those returning. The agency expedites screening for wounded troops.