By Quentin Fottrell
Attention all airline passengers and those who are unhappy about security procedures at airports: The Transportation Security Administration is rebooting its Aviation Security Advisory Committee with an all-new collection of experts and advisers. And while the TSA won’t say who will represent passengers’ rights on the ASAC – established in 1989 following the destruction of Pan American World Airways Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb – some of the agency’s biggest critics say they’ve been left off the list of invitees.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the re-established ASAC will include victims of terrorist acts against aviation, law enforcement and security experts, airport operators, airline management, and aircraft and security equipment manufacturers and – crucially for members of the public – aviation consumer advocates will also be represented. Jonella J. Culmer, a spokeswoman for the TSA, says, “ASAC members have not been finalized or announced at this time.”
However, Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, says she asked to be on the committee, but has been already been told that there are no vacancies. In an email exchange with a department official, FlyersRights.org was told it could submit a candidate to participate on sub-committees or public forums. Hanni says her organization could not afford to pay for those monthly trips to Washington D.C. (A full committee member would have such travel expenses paid by the TSA.)
Hanni believes her organization – which she says has over 30,000 members – deserves a seat on the committee. “It just shows how truly alienated the true passenger groups are,” she says. Hanni wants more behavioral profiling of passengers to reduce security “pat-downs”. She says older Americans – particularly those who use colostomy bags – and women with mastectomy prosthesis should also be spared repeated and intrusive searches at security. “More rational thought should be brought into this,” she says.
Other people who have not been approached include Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, which aims to educate policymakers about air travel issues and protect passengers’ rights. Macsata tells Pay Dirt, “The AAPR has not been asked to serve on the committee, which doesn’t surprise me considering that our organization has been overly critical of the agency.”
Another committee wallflower: Air travel consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who received a subpoena from the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 asking him to reveal a source for a story he wrote about the TSA issuing a directive to authorize pat-downs and physical inspections. The subpoena was subsequently withdrawn, but Elliott does not expect to be on the TSA’s list of invitees in 2011.
“The TSA has a well-earned reputation for doing what they like without listening,” Elliott says. (Last month, the U.S. appeals court upheld the use of full-body scanners at airports, but said the TSA should have sought public comment before deploying them.) “I would be horrified if someone asked me,” Elliott says, “because it would mean that I’m not doing my job as a journalist, watchdog and consumer advocate.” (Culmer did not respond to request for comment to the criticisms by Hanni, Macsata and Elliott.)
Airline passengers, would you like to see airport security procedures change?