Ingrid Sanden sits with her
daughter on the shoreline overlooking Gull Lake near Nisswa, Minn. Friday,
Aug. 5, 2005. Well-known people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy aren't the
only ones who have mistakenly been stopped from boarding planes because
their names appear on the government's 'no-fly list.' At least 14 infants
have been delayed until airline officials could verify they weren't the
actual people on the list. Sanden's one-year-old daughter is one of 14
infants whose name appears on the government's 'no-fly list.'
Infants have been stopped from boarding planes at airports throughout the
U.S. because their names are the same as or similar to those of possible terrorists
on the government's "no-fly list."
It sounds like a joke, but it's not funny to parents who miss flights while
scrambling to have babies' passports and other documents faxed.
Ingrid Sanden's 1-year-old daughter was stopped in Phoenix before boarding
a flight home to Washington at Thanksgiving.
"I completely understand the war on terrorism, and I completely understand
people wanting to be safe when they fly," Sanden said. "But focusing
the target a little bit is probably a better use of resources."
The government's lists of people who are either barred from flying or require
extra scrutiny before being allowed to board airplanes grew markedly since the
Sept. 11 attacks. Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union say the
government doesn't provide enough information about the people on the lists,
so innocent passengers can be caught up in the security sweep if they happen
to have the same name as someone on the lists.
That can happen even if the person happens to be an infant like Sanden's daughter.
(Children under 2 don't need tickets but Sanden purchased one for her daughter
to ensure she had a seat.)
"It was bizarre," Sanden said. "I was hugely pregnant, and I
was like, 'We look really threatening.'"
Sarah Zapolsky and her husband had a similar experience last month while departing
from Dulles International Airport outside Washington. An airline ticket agent
told them their 11-month-old son was on the government list.
They were able to board their flight after ticket agents took a half-hour to
fax her son's passport and fill out paperwork.
"I understand that security is important," Zapolsky said. "But
if they're just guessing, and we have to give up our passport to prove that
our 11-month-old is not a terrorist, it's a waste of their time."
Well-known people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), Rep.
John Lewis (news, bio, voting record), D-Ga., and David Nelson, who starred
in the sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," also have been
stopped at airports because their names match those on the lists.
The government has sought to improve its process for checking passengers since
the Sept. 11 attacks. The first attempt was scuttled because of fears the government
would have access to too much personal information. A new version, called Secure
Flight, is being crafted.
But for now, airlines still have the duty to check passengers' names against
those supplied by the government. That job has become more difficult —
since the 2001 attacks the lists have swelled from a dozen or so names to more
than 100,000 names, according to people in the aviation industry who are familiar
with the issue. They asked not to be identified by name because the exact number
is restricted information.
Not all those names are accompanied by biographical information that can more
closely identify the suspected terrorists. That can create problems for people
who reserve flights under such names as "T Kennedy" or "David
ACLU lawyer Tim Sparapani said the problem of babies stopped by the no-fly
list illustrates some of the reasons the lists don't work.
"There's no oversight over the names," Sparapani said. "We know
names are added hastily, and when you have a name-based system you don't focus
on solid intelligence leads. You focus on names that are similar to those that
might be suspicious."
The Transportation Security Administration, which administers the lists, instructs
airlines not to deny boarding to children under 12 — or select them for
extra security checks — even if their names match those on a list.
But it happens anyway. Debby McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association,
said: "Our information indicates it happens at every major airport."
The TSA has a "passenger ombudsman" who will investigate individual
claims from passengers who say they are mistakenly on the lists. TSA spokeswoman
Yolanda Clark said 89 children have submitted their names to the ombudsman.
Of those, 14 are under the age of 2.
If the ombudsman determines an individual should not be stopped, additional
information on that person is included on the list so he or she is not stopped
the next time they fly.
Clark said even with the problems the lists are essential to keeping airline