U.S. News

U.S. officials meet travel industry over security

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. homeland security officials sat down with travel industry executives on Friday to try to address growing complaints by fliers who feel they are facing overly intrusive screening at U.S. airports.

An employee of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses a special LED light to check the authenticity of a passenger's driver's license as he matches names on boarding passes at Washington Reagan National Airport January 4, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Industry officials, travelers and pilots have complained bitterly to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about new full-body scanners and more rigorous patdown checks begun recent weeks.

Security officials have defended the measures as necessary after foiled plots by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has tried to hide bombs in clothing and parcels that have made it aboard a U.S. passenger airliner and two cargo planes.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole met executives from the travel industry, including hotels and online sites, who worry the stepped-up security is crimping travel and hurting their businesses.

“The meeting with Secretary Napolitano was informative but not entirely reassuring,” said Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president with the U.S. Travel Association. “We understand the challenge DHS confronts but the question is where we draw the line.”

Pistole mentioned several forthcoming reforms for so-called trusted travelers, Freeman said.

“Our country desperately needs a long-term vision for aviation security screening rather than an endless reaction to yesterday’s threat,” he said.

After the meeting, DHS said Napolitano told the executives she was committed to improving security, working with the industry and deploying more security personnel and new technology to address potential risks.

The meeting was “to underscore the department’s continued commitment to partnering with the nation’s travel and tourism industry to facilitate the flow of trade and travel while maintaining high security standards to protect the American people,” DHS said in a statement.

Agency officials declined to elaborate.

TSA has begun talking to the biggest U.S. pilot union, the Air Line Pilots Association, to address complaints that flight crews should not be subject to rigorous patdowns and body scans since they already undergo background checks and have cockpit access.

Pilots have raised concerns about health risks with the scanners because they go through security more frequently than most travelers. DHS officials have said the scans are safe.

Privacy groups have also gone to court to challenge the body scanners as illegal and violations of privacy.

Editing by John O’Callaghan