Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Did they say that? (II) - updated

Pursuant to legislation passed by the Congress following 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security was tasked with putting in place a system to record the entry and exit of foreign visitors to the U.S. The intent was to have an automated system that would match arrival and departure records, making it possible to identify visa overstays and get an accurate picture of overstays by nationality, immigration status, the numbers from visa waiver countries, etc. In 2004 it implemented US-VISIT/Entry program that recorded visitors’ digital fingerprints and a took a digital photograph.

Now the department has proposed the exit portion of the US-VISIT program. It wants the airlines to be responsible for collecting departing visitors’ biometric data, something that will cost the carriers a bundle. Not the best of timing, given that three airlines have recently declared bankruptcy (ATA, Aloha, and Frontier), United Airlines just announced its largest ever quarterly loss since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2006, and Delta and Northwest are proposing a merger to survive better, etc. The airlines and their trade group (IATA) are protesting vociferously.

Driving home I heard a DHS spokesman defend the proposal on the radio, saying (not a verbatim quote) that it is fair because … this a cost of doing business, bringing visitors into and out of the United States… Wow! So perhaps we can stretch this to charging the airlines for any/all illegal activities done by visitors, just another “… cost of doing business…” Or perhaps the airlines should bill the federal government billions of dollars as “… a benefit of doing business, bringing visitors into and out of the US…” After all tourism contributes over three percent of U.S. gross domestic product!

DHS Proposes Biometric Airport and Seaport Exit Procedures
Statement of the IATA CEO about the US-VISIT/EXIT program
IATA doesn't like this fingerprint proposal

04/23 update: Delta Air Lines announced a first quarter loss of $6.39 billion, while Northwest reported a $4.1 billion.

Delta, Northwest report combined $10.5B loss on fuel costs

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