On November 1, 2010, the new Secure Flight rules take effect in the U.S. Effectively, this means that anyone who has not supplied their legal name and birthdate together with their air ticket covering any flight in the United States, will be denied either the itinerary, or at worse, the ability to check in at the airport. Naturally, this will affect some tourists in traveling around America.
The basics of Secure Flight
The program is designed to better match up the traveler identity throughout the journey. It does this by requiring that a correct birthdate and legal are both supplied together with the ticket booking. These are then matched to the identification the traveler uses to check in and go through security.
Without supplying these to pieces of information, airlines will be unable to issue tickets for travel on or after 1 November. However, most airlines that fly to the U.S. have already built this into their ticketing systems and can't issue tickets without it being complete.
Secure Flight pitfalls
Of course, these being TSA regulations, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. I can think of a few ways that Secure Flight could go wrong, despite seeming a very simple process.
Scenario 1: A travel agent is booking a fare for a group or family, and the person responsible for booking the flights don't know all the birthdates for the individuals traveling. An example would be a son's girlfriend or friend. In this case, unable to supply the booking tools with a correct birthdate, the booking won't be placed. The result could well be that the fare on offer expires, resulting in more expensive flights for the travelers.
Scenario 2: While U.S. dates are normally written as Month/Day/Year, in Europe they're written out as Day/Month/Year. This could easily cause mistakes when a European traveler or travel agent submits the Secure Flight data. Easy to catch for the system validating the dates when the birthdate is 27 October, but not so simple when the traveler's birthdate is 4 March.
Scenario 3: A travel department for a company is setting up an itinerary for a new employee, and without the birthdate, can't book a fare. This is likely to result in a more expensive flight for the employee, especially close to the departure date.
Scenario 4: While the system will allow bookings to go through without a middle name entered into the Secure Flight data, what happens when the traveler has one? Travel agents are currently uncertain about this, and there's no guidance from the TSA on the matter either. This could affect a wide range of travelers, especially group bookings.
Scenario 5: Many IDs only give middle names as the initial, this is common with U.S. drivers licenses. However, today the system does not allow you to enter only the initial and will reject the data. So when the traveler shows up at the airport, the Secure Flight data won't technically correspond to the identification used. While TSA security agents likely have guidance in these cases, their history of applying that guidance consistently leaves something to be desired.
As you can see, it's a pretty simple rule, but could make U.S. travel even more complicated for many. Of course, for international travelers, there's often also ESTA or a visa to contend with.
It looks to be an interesting holiday travel season coming up, especially with Thanksgiving in the same month as this new rule.
If you've been caught up with Secure Flight, or have any comments on the topic, make yourself heard in the comments below.
You should follow me on twitter here.