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mar 16 2009

Security: The TSA is adding a twist to passenger screening

Just when you thought you had the TSA rules all figured out, here comes a new procedure. Starting sometime in the next few months, you'll have to provide your birth date and gender whenever you buy an airplane ticket. The TSA is giving the airlines some time to change their websites and retrain their phone-reservations agents to be able to implement the agency's new Secure Flight program. Expect the changes on domestic flights by this summer.

The change is supposed to help reduce the number of Americans who are misidentified as individuals on the agency's no-fly and "selectee-for-further-inspection" watch lists. Up until now, airlines have done the work of vetting their passenger manifests for suspect names, but under the new program, the TSA assumes the job of monitoring watch lists full-time and implements "a uniform, efficient matching process."

In a related move, the TSA is bringing back "gate checks," the practice of pulling aside passengers for searches while they wait at airport gates to board planes even after they have already passed through security checkpoints!

Here are some tips for helping to spend as little time in a security line as possible.

CHECK FOR DELAYS IN ADVANCE: The TSA has temporarily disabled the tool on its website that offers historical averages for security wait times at individual airport from the TSA. But FlightStats, is offering that data on average security wait times by terminal by time of day. It also tracks flights in real time, and provides more complete info of overall air traffic delays than you'll find at other sites.

AVOID DELAYS BY PACKING SMART: You'll still be able to speed up your time passing through the security gates by meticulously packing your bag for check-in. While British authorities may lift the liquids ban within 6 to 12 months, according to the WSJ's Middle Seat Terminal blog, and the TSA is being pressured to follow suit, the liquids ban remains in effect. Check TSA.gov for an updated list of what's allowed and what isn't.

HASSLED AT THE CHECKPOINT? FILE A COMPLAINT: If you believe you have been misidentified as a suspect traveler, visit the website for the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) and file a complaint. (However, as someone who is routinely misidentified and called aside for additional inspections despite having filed a complaint through TRIP, I can't vouch that your effort will be rewarded. See our earlier blog post: "A rare peek at Homeland Security's files on travelers.")

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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