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GUEST COMMENTARY: Mr. Chertoff: Please Get Your Act Together!

Posted by kinchendavid on October 17, 2006

By Rene A. Henry

Every time I fly, I question whether I am as safe as I was before 9/11 because of all of the confusion getting to my seat on the plane. I pray that my flight crew and air traffic controllers know what they are doing better than the security screeners.

Contrary to American Airlines and its slogan, “We know why you fly,” they don’t have a clue why I fly, which is more often than I would like. American and other airlines must insist that Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, implement security procedures that are exactly the same at all airports.

For years we have been taking off our shoes, pulling out our laptop computers and separating all of the metal in our pockets before going through the electronic gates. Transportation Security Administration personnel at some airports want shoes, like computers, in a separate bin for the X-Ray machine. Others do not. If you’re boarding a flight outside of the U.S. you don’t have to remove your shoes. And at some airports, Chertoff’s TSA officials will even insist you remove your belt. The well-meaning, on-site TSA personnel just are not trained to implement uniform procedures and, as a result, there is no consistent policy whatsoever from one airport to another.

Until recently, it was illegal to carry on shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste or any liquids or gels. After many protests, TSA loosened its carry-on ban for toiletries in containers of less than three ounces on some domestic flights.

At least supposedly. I have had no problem going through airport security in the U.S. However, clearing security at Heathrow Airport in London when returning to the U.S., miniatures were confiscated. Again, Chertoff has not made Homeland Security and TSA guidelines universally consistent, if indeed he even has a policy. Don’t always believe what the TSA website says. What really counts is how the policy is implemented when you are trying to board a plane.

The next time you go through an airport security line to board a flight, if you get confused, frustrated or delayed, ask your representatives in Congress to wake up Chertoff and his “Beltway Bureaucrats.”

The carry-on rules get even more complicated for international flights to the U.S. Just ask Russian-American jazz musician Valery Ponomarev who suffered a broken arm when he wanted to carry his trumpet on board an Air India flight from Paris to New York. The 63-year-old Ponomarev, who has lived in the U.S. for 35 years, kept his trumpet with him on a connecting flight before arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

In his protest, the trumpeter obviously blew a couple of sour notes because four of Paris’ finest gendarmes subdued him, broke his arm and held him in detention without treatment for six hours. Ultimately, the U.S. Embassy came to his rescue.

Recently, before flying to and through London, I called and e-mailed American Airlines, British Airways and TSA to get specific information on the size limitations for carry-on, so I would not have to check my camera, laptop, and other personal information as baggage. When I should have had the same answer from all three, I got different measurements from both airlines and no help at all from TSA.

When it comes to security fast tracking for frequent flyers and those flying business or first class, again this varies by airport and airline. As someone who has flown nearly four million miles, I appreciate being able to fast track security. I can do this in Seattle and New York’s JFK, but not in Miami or Washington’s Reagan National Airport. When I ask why, I’ve been told by a TSA officer that it is because the airline does not want to spend the money. When I ask the airline they blame TSA. No one accepts responsibility. The situation is even more confusing in London where you can fast track at Heathrow but not at Gatwick.

The media doesn’t make matters any easier by reporting what they are told and perpetuating the confusion. A good investigative reporter should see firsthand if the process works.

TSA has established levels of threat alert with colors from code red being severe, orange high, yellow elevated, blue guarded and green low. The way Chertoff’s “policy” is being confusingly misimplemented, “Saturday Night Live” parodied it best saying the color codes would be better labeled white, off-white, eggshell, cream and ivory.

Rene A. Henry lives in Seattle, WA is the author of six books, and writes and speaks on various subjects including customer service, public relations and crisis management. He is a native of Charleston, WV.

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