Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

29 Jan, 2007

Asia-Pacific Airlines Group Blasts Growing Security Hassles

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines has poured out a litany of complaints about the growing security hassles facing the aviation industry.

In its annual report for 2006, released last week, the Kuala Lumpur-based grouping of 17 regional airlines blasted the security hassles as onerous, costly, complicated, lacking coherence and standardisation, causing “emotional distress and grave inconvenience” to passengers while making life increasingly difficult for the airlines.

The report noted that various initiatives were under way to streamline passenger processes and enhance travel security of travel by automating the various processes, and reducing the need for unnecessary duplication of effort in capturing required passenger information.

With the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) having adopted a global, harmonised standard for the integration of biometric identification information into passports and other Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTDs), “we can expect to see a steady increase in the usage of such biometric passports, allowing automated entry and departure processes, and saving passengers time and trouble.”

However, the report said, “even as governments make efforts to smooth the flow of international passengers, at the same time they are introducing other, increasingly onerous, requirements for submission of detailed passenger information by airlines prior to departure.

“These programmes are mainly motivated by a desire to enhance border security, rather than the security of air travel itself. Unfortunately, many governments have failed to follow established ICAO global standards, resulting in a proliferation of inconsistent requirements.

“These impose significant costs on airlines whilst causing inconvenience to passengers from longer queuing times in general or, even more seriously, in cases of wrongly denied boarding.”

The report said that today, “an airline carrying a passenger to the USA must submit pre-departure personal information, much of it manually collected by the airline at check-in. Perversely, the passenger may then be asked to supply the same information again when completing the customs and immigration forms on arrival, as well as being photographed and finger-printed.

“Whilst most travellers are prepared to accept that disclosing some personal information is necessary in the interests of maintaining safe and secure air travel, many have serious doubts regarding the way in which such private data may be misused for other purposes.

“When individual governments seek to apply fundamentally different policies on such issues, airlines are caught in the middle, struggling to reconcile conflicting requirements. In some cases, it is simply not possible to comply with demands for passenger data from one government, without breaching privacy legislation elsewhere.”

The report said that there are suggestions for passenger data disclosure requirements to be widened even further to include credit card information, telephone contacts, hotel and car rental details, etc. “Civil rights groups have understandably expressed strong reservations about the dangers of such personal information being misused.

“As if these demands were not enough, another US agency, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) … is seeking to mandate the advance transmission of passenger data on all flights bound for the US, to assist in controlling the potential spread of communicable diseases.”

It said that the “costs, both direct and indirect, in terms of inconvenience for passengers must not be under-estimated. Layering additional information requirements on already complex processes has hidden costs that may far outweigh any benefits derived in terms of enhanced safety or security.

“More and more countries are mandating similar requirements for airlines to submit passenger data. Australia, Canada and India already have such systems in place. In the Asia Pacific region, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong are also reportedly studying similar measures.

“Unfortunately, different governments have failed to adhere to ICAO global guidelines, and instead seem bent on tailoring their demands with special data elements and non-standard electronic submission formats.

“All this only adds to the amount of work involved in implementing such systems, and can give rise to confusion amongst airlines, travel agents and passengers alike. Furthermore, the usefulness of all such data, in terms of combating security threats, is absolutely dependent on the quality of government watch lists, and other databases, against which the information is compared.

“Experience has already shown that errors and shortcomings with these, obviously non-public, databases inevitably lead to many false alarms, cases of mistaken identity and mistreatment of innocent travellers.”

It said that “some governments are pressing for earlier transmission of such information prior to departure, inevitably making life less convenient for all passengers in terms of longer queues and check-in times.”

The report said security is better enhanced by conventional police work, intelligence gathering and close international collaboration.

“Efforts focussed in these areas are likely to be a far better investment than a blanket approach to aviation security which starts from the unlikely premise that every one of the six million people who travel by air every day should be treated as a suspected terrorist,” the report said.

“Good security does not need to be associated with emotional distress and grave inconvenience. Rather, good security is all about good threat assessment and balanced risk management, not the elimination of every conceivable risk.”

The full commentary can be read at: http://www.aapairlines.org/resource_centre/AAPA_AR2006_FreedomLoss.pdf

Comments are closed.