WASHINGTON -- A government proposal to start collecting birth dates and genders of people reserving airline flights is drawing protests from major airlines and travel agencies that say it would be invasive, confusing and "useless."
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wants passengers to give the additional personal information — as well as their full names — so it can do more precise background checks that it says will result in fewer travelers being mistaken for terrorists. Travelers currently must provide only a last name and a first initial.
Airlines say passengers will resist providing more details and that the process will be time-consuming.
Asking a passenger's birth date and gender "would create a new level of complication for completing air reservations," United Airlines recently wrote to the TSA. "Seeking useless data carries an unacceptably high price tag."
The Air Transport Association, a trade group of major U.S. airlines, the American Society of Travel Agents and Continental and Virgin airlines also opposed, in writing, the TSA asking for travelers' birth dates and genders. Opposition is not as strong for soliciting full names.
TSA is seeking more personal information as part of a long-delayed plan to improve preflight background checks of the 700 million people who fly commercially each year in the USA.
The plan centers on transferring the task of checking passenger backgrounds from airlines to the TSA. The transfer is required by a law enacted in 2004 and was urged by the 9/11 Commission that year.
The commission said the TSA can do a better job because it can check passengers against the complete government terrorist watch lists instead of partial lists used by airlines. The TSA expects to take over background checks next year, though many airlines said the agency's plans don't give them enough time to change their reservation systems and enable the switch.
Under a TSA proposal published in August, airlines and travel agents would be required to ask people reserving flights for their birth date, gender and full name. Travelers, however, would not be required to give the new information.
People who don't comply could be more easily mistaken for a terrorist and "may be more likely to experience delays, be subjected to additional screening (or) be denied transport," the TSA wrote.
The TSA proposal received support in recent comments from the Air Line Pilots Association and the Air Carrier Association of America, which represents low-cost airlines such as AirTran and Frontier.
Getting the extra personal information "will result in fewer holdups at the check-in counters and will allow airlines greater ease in processing passengers," the carrier association wrote.