The Senate Judiciary Committee heard this morning from one of its own about some of the problems with airline “no fly” watch lists. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., says he had a close encounter with the lists when trying to take the U.S. Airways shuttle out of Washington to Boston. The ticket agent wouldn’t let him on the plane. His name was on the list in error.
After a flurry of phone calls, Kennedy was able to fly home, but then the same thing happened coming back to Washington.
Kennedy says it took three calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to get his name stricken from the list. The process took several weeks, in all.
You know, most of us can’t just pick up the phone and call Tom Ridge when we have a problem like this. Surely secret databases that prevent U.S. citizens from flying around their own country are more suited to the Stalin-era Soviet Union than they are to the 21st century United States?
On a personal note, I can verify that this is a pretty frustrating problem. I was never prevented from boarding a plane, but in 2002 I was flying weekly from Orange Country to San Jose for a consulting job, and Southwest Airlines pulled me aside for a special search on every single flight I took with them. Nothing I did convinced them to fix whatever flag they had in their database that singled me out. After two straight months (that is, 16 consecutive special searches), I finally gave up and started flying American.