Southwest Airlines tightening BWI security

Boarding pass needed to go through checkpoints

January 03, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Southwest Airlines passengers will need a boarding pass to get through airport security checkpoints starting Tuesday, making Southwest the first airline at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to require the heightened security.

Passenger itineraries and ticket receipts will no longer be enough to get through security, airline officials said yesterday. Instead, Southwest passengers must pick up a boarding pass at the ticket counter, at curbside check-in or from one of 12 new electronic ticketing kiosks that the airline has installed at BWI.

Southwest is the busiest airline at BWI, with 144 daily departures representing about 45 percent of the airport's business.

The other airlines at BWI will not require passengers to have boarding passes to pass through security until mandated by the federal Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA said the requirement will take effect for the other airlines at BWI by March, but an exact date has not been set. Already, 46 of the nation's 429 commercial airports require the boarding passes. At those airports, a computer program picks out people who might present a threat, and their boarding passes are flagged so they get extra attention at checkpoints.

That enables the security agency to focus its screening efforts at checkpoints and to reduce the number of random screenings at gates, which have produced complaints from passengers who are delayed by the searches or who have already been searched at a checkpoint.

"This is a matter of convenience and better security," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez. He said the agency has no problem with Southwest getting a jump on the boarding pass requirement, which the airline worked out with the TSA last month.

"We were ultimately going to ask them to do it anyway," he said. "And if they do it before we ask them to, that's great."

The boarding pass requirement will be easy to enforce at BWI because Pier B is used exclusively by Southwest.

The requirement will take effect next week at all 59 airports that Southwest serves.

"Rather than telling our customers that in one city you do need [a boarding pass] and in another you don't, we're just doing it everywhere for consistency," said Christine Turneabe-Connelly, a Southwest spokeswoman.

Southwest said it is making the change now to encourage passengers who have e-tickets and who are not checking luggage to use the kiosks, which typically have much shorter lines than the ticket counter does.

To get a boarding pass, fliers must swipe a frequent flier card or a credit card through the kiosk machine. The airline warns that the name on the credit card must exactly match the name on the ticket, or a boarding pass will not be issued.

Southwest said passengers also can print out a "security document" from its Internet site as early as a day before their flight departure. The airline said the document will allow passengers to get through security checkpoints until boarding passes are available online.

Airlines are scrambling to allow passengers to print out boarding passes from their computers to head off long lines at ticket counters. About 25 percent of the passengers at BWI proceed directly to their gate, officials said.

Meanwhile, TSA and airport officials said this week's rollout of the requirement to screen all checked baggage went smoothly. As of Wednesday, all baggage is being screened for explosives by CT-scanning machines or swabs that detect explosive residue. Some bags are also being searched by hand or by bomb-sniffing dogs.

Fears that the searches would lead to long lines and flight delays have not materialized. At BWI, spokesman John White said the changes are coming at the most-convenient time of the year: the slow post-holiday winter months.

"The timing of this is very good, considering that January and February are typically our slower months of the year," White said.

The TSA has posted tips for fliers on its Internet site at www.tsatraveltips.us.

BWI officials said they still recommend that passengers arrive 90 minutes early for domestic flights and two hours early for international flights.

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