TSA reviews crew security program but immediate policy change halted

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After reports that screening procedures for pilots and cabin crew enrolled in the Known Crewmember (KCM) program had changed suddenly over the weekend, Runway Girl Network reached out to the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for more information. The answers we received raise questions on the effectiveness of communications between regulatory agencies, industry groups, airlines and crew.

The KCM program is a joint initiative between Airlines for America (A4A) and the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA). The program benefits both airline operations and the flying public by relieving strain on the TSA and TSA PreCheck lines that passengers rely on, while also ensuring that crew members are not delayed in getting to their flights.

It is only available to TSA-authorized US airline crew members at domestic airports. In order to qualify for the KCM program, crew members have to meet US government background checks.

A TSA policy revision reported over the weekend would require crew to wear uniforms to go through KCM screening, even when they are not on duty, as might be the case for pilots and crew who commute to work in another city. TSA spokesperson Dani Bennett told RGN that in partnership with A4A, the TSA “is proactively conducting a review” of the KCM program as a part of its ongoing efforts to continuously enhance aviation security.

She added: “This is a routine review to determine how we can strengthen and improve the KCM program. There is no particular concern that initiated it.”

RGN reached out to A4A to confirm that the association was involved in the policy revision process. A4A spokesperson Vaughn Jennings echoed the TSA nearly word-for-word when responding to RGN about the policy change, saying, “This is a routine review to identify ways to strengthen the program.”

However, it’s clear that some airlines and crew were caught by surprise by this “routine review”, with ALPA president Capt. Joe DePete telling members in a 26 August letter that a “temporary hold” has been placed on implementation of the recent KCM program uniform policy changes..

“I’m aware that some eligible ALPA members were prematurely turned away from KCM access points since the uniform requirement announcement. We’ve been assured that those actions were in error and are working with the TSA to ensure that the suspension of implementation is promptly and accurately communicated to Transportation Security Officers,” stated DePete.

“While the implementation delay of the new uniform requirement policy is only temporary, the TSA’s decision provides a key opportunity for collaboration by the regulator, the airlines, and labor to develop additional or alternative measures to mitigate risk to the KCM system pending further TSA review as part of an ongoing audit. Such collaboration has been the hallmark of the KCM program from its inception.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, whose members also participate in the KCM program, said in a statement: “We continue to encourage all flight attendants to comply with procedures and instructions at KCM and all security checkpoints. Today, we received reports that Houston (IAH) and Denver (DEN) had implemented the uniform requirement early. As soon as we advised TSA this was corrected. Please respectfully question any instructions at a security checkpoint that are not in line with communicated procedures. But if the officer does not change the instruction, comply and utilize this report form so we can address the issue directly with TSA.”

The KCM website has since been updated to note that the uniform requirement at KCM access points will not go into effect, as expected, today.

Once implemented, the change in policy itself will not be difficult to conform to, explained a US airline pilot, who spoke to RGN on the condition that they not be named. “I wish I knew why they’re proposing changes, but as a pilot the requirement to be in uniform isn’t too much of a hardship: I always wear dress pants anyway, so I’d simply have to wear my uniform shirt for traveling, which is fine. At my destination, I can just repack the uniform shirt to wear on the return flight,” the pilot said.

The pilot confirmed that neither their airline nor their union were aware that the policy change initiated over the weekend was coming. “No,” the pilot said. “Both say the change was announced after close-of-business Friday and without consulting either. ALPA says the same: TSA didn’t consult anyone before making the policy change.”

The TSA, like any other government security agency or aviation safety body, is not obligated to reveal details of any potential threats to aviation safety. While procedure changes may be required at any time, it is, however, important that those who are affected by these changes know about them.

If, as TSA says and the A4A appears to confirm, the recent uniform requirement is only part of a routine review of the KCM procedure, then there seems to have been a gap in communications between A4A and its member airlines.

The TSA spokesperson also suggested that there may be other changes to KCM ahead. “The results of the review will determine our next steps, which we will take in coordination with A4A and other stakeholders,” Bennett said.

A4A’s Jennings said the KCM program has 108 participating airports in the US and more than 60 US airlines that participate. He did not respond immediately to a follow-up question on why airline members and crew would be caught by surprise if the policy review was “routine”.

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