By Stephanie Rowe

TSA’s Secure Flight program began operations in January and continues to gain momentum. It will provide better security for the traveling public and a smoother boarding process for passengers that have names similar to those on the government watch lists.

Prior to Secure Flight, TSA distributed the watch list to each air carrier who was then responsible for matching their passengers against the watch list. Secure Flight establishes a much needed uniform process for clearing people to board flights. Once fully implemented, Secure Flight will do all domestic and international passenger watch list matching for commercial air travel. This will ensure a consistent experience for passengers regardless of air carrier and increases security since the watch list will no longer need to be distributed to the airline industry.

Secure Flight brings with it new information requirements for passengers. When buying a ticket an air traveler will be required to provide three main pieces of data: full name as it appears on the government issued id they will use when they fly, date of birth and gender. By providing this information, Secure Flight will clear more than 99 percent of passengers for air travel. This will provide a smoother check-in process for passengers that have been misidentified due to having names similar to those on the watch-list.

TSA and DHS built Privacy into the foundation and culture of the program. Secure Flight developed detailed privacy training for staff, privacy specific business and system requirements, and a team structure that included a Privacy subject matter expert on each development team.

The Secure Flight program has come a long way in its development. The implementation of the program will be a long and challenging road due to a number of factors including the complexity, number of stakeholders and passenger education. TSA will need to partner with the airline industry, intelligence and law enforcement communities and many other stakeholders to get all critical pieces of the process in place to support this major operation.

Secure Flight needs to process 2.2 million passenger transactions per day and clear those passengers in a timely manner to not impact the aviation industry. The airlines have the heaviest lift to adopt Secure Flight because of the computer system changes required. TSA will need to work closely with the airlines to support them in these changes. The airlines are at different stages in the adoption of Secure Flight and some are in a better position than others to implement the system changes.

Travelers are likely see and experience the differences among airlines as the Secure Flight process is implemented. For example, one carrier may add the full name field first and add date of birth and gender later while others may add places for all three data elements at once. Travel agencies will also be required to make system changes to support the new data requirements. The Secure Flight implementation touches the very beginning of the airline reservation process and goes all the way through the boarding process. This is one reason that it is such a complex operation.

Secure Flight is a win for TSA and narrows the ever existing security gap.

Stephanie Rowe served on TSA’s senior leadership team from 2005-2009. She was responsible for building the Secure Flight Infrastructure. She owns and operates Next LLC, a process consulting firm and can be reached at

  • Tony Toews

    And, of course, we know the bad guys can’t get locate false ID.