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Posted: May 05, 2009

Getting personal at the airport

Required personal information will help streamline airport security

Robert Polk

I think we have all heard enough about the swine flu, so I will talk this month about something that should make traveling easier!

Beginning later this year, the Transportation Security Administration will require you to provide your full name, date of birth and gender to the airline when making a reservation. This Secure Flight information is not optional. Failure to provide the required elements in advance could inhibit your ability to get a boarding pass or require you to undergo additional airport security screening. 

So, what’s the fuss?  Why do they need more of your personal information, and what are they doing with it? The purpose of collecting this information is to allow the TSA to perform enhanced and centralized security watch list matching that is currently done by each airline. 

If you have a name similar to or the same as a name on the current security watch list, you know what a pain it is to get through the airport. You have most likely experienced many extra security screenings and holdups at the airport which make traveling much less fun. 

You will now have the option of preventing this in the future by providing a “redress number” at the time of booking. A redress number is a unique number that will help TSA eliminate watch list misidentification and verify your identity. (To apply for a redress Number go to DHSTrip.gov.)

The good news is that, based on the timeline below, only new reservations need this information; previously ticketed passengers will not have to change their reservations at all.

Timeline:

May 1
By today, all of the Global Distribution Systems used by airlines to release their inventory for purchase and accept reservations have been formatted to receive the new information.

May 15 
All domestic airlines are required to request each traveler's full name as it appears on government-issued ID to be used at check-in.

Aug. 15
All domestic airlines are required to request all Secure Flight elements, including full name, DOB, gender and optional redress number.

Oct. 31
All international airlines are required to request all Secure Flight elements, including full name, DOB, gender and optional redress number.

Tips for travelers

So what do you need to do? Not much, really.  Most of the heavy lifting has already been done by your travel agency, the airlines and the TSA, but there are three items you should consider:

1) Update your travel profile with your travel agency (or — gasp! — internet booking site if you use one) to include your full name, date of birth and gender. Also provide your redress number if you have one.

Even though not all reservation systems have been programmed yet to accept all Secure Flight data elements such as date of birth, gender and redress number, you should begin making reservations using your full name and, when applicable, provide your date of birth and gender.

2) Make sure all data elements match exactly the ID you plan to present at the airport. For example, if your state-issued driver’s license lists your name as Robert A. Polk, then your reservation must be booked as Robert A. Polk, not Robert Polk or R. Polk. If your full middle name is on the ID, you must include your full middle name in the reservation.

Here is where it gets tricky. If you use your state-issued ID card or driver’s license for some trips and your passport for other trips, check to see if the names match exactly. Passports often include full middle names and state-issued ID cards and driver’s licenses usually include only a middle initial. If the names do not match exactly, for each trip you must remember to use the name format of the identification you will show at the airport, and, of course, remember to bring the right one with you the day you travel! 

3) Verify your name on your frequent traveler profiles. If you signed up for frequent traveler programs using a nickname or a name other than your name as shown on your identification, you should contact each frequent traveler program to update your name to match Secure Flight’s full name requirement. For example, frequent traveler program participant Robert Polk should update his frequent flyer profiles to Robert A. Polk so that he does not jeopardize receiving credit when traveling under his full name as required by Secure Flight. Especially when those extra fees the airlines are charging for luggage are often waived for elite-level frequent flyers, you should make sure you collect every point due to you.
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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at Robert@polkmajestic.com.

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