American Airlines is initiating tomorrow the next phase of the new Secure Flight program, a federal initiative to start untangling the monstrous tangle of the various airline lists that are kept to be matched against the monstrous tangle of the federal terrorist watch list.
Supposedly, Secure Flight will greatly reduce the number of so-called false positives, that is, innocent passengers with names similar or identical to the name of someone on the actual watch list, a detailed and secret database that is maintained by the FBI.
Key to this, says the TSA, is eventually ensuring that each passenger uses the same exact name on their personal ID and their airline ticket. Another element of the program is that passengers will need to provide more personal information when booking a ticket -- including date of birth and gender -- than in the past.
Once everything is in place, the watch-list matching will be done by the TSA, before a ticket-holder gets to the airport.
All airlines eventually will be making the booking-process changes that American is putting in place for customers making reservations starting tomorrow. The reservations will require:
-- Full name exactly as it appears on the government-issue ID card you use at the airport.
-- Birthdate and gender
-- Those who routinely have routinely been flagged over the years by the current watch-list mess at airports also can provide their "redress number," which is the number assigned by the TSA in the past to passengers who are mistakenly matched to the terrorist list.
Another thing: For American and all airlines' customers, it's important to make sure that your name on airline personal accounts -- including your frequent flier account -- is listed under the exact same name as your ID and itinerary.
That is, if you're Kim Smith on your frequent flier account, but Kimberly B. Smith on your driver's license that you use as airport ID, you will need to be listed as Kimberly B. Smith on your reservation and you SHOULD change the name on your frequent flier account to the same, to avoid complications.
American customers can adjust their frequent flier profiles, if necessary, by going to "My Account" on AA.com and then clicking on the "Contact Information and Password" tab.
Other airlines have the same kind of process.
No need to panic, by the way. Secure Flight, including the provision that you can't fly if your ID and boarding pass don't match precisely, won't be fully implemented till early next year.
It's just a good idea to plan ahead.
I have no idea what to do, by the way, if, say, the name on your driver's license ("Kimberly B. Smith") is not exactly the same as the name on, say, your passport ("Kimberly Beth Smith.") That's the case with me, in which my passport spells out my full middle name, but my driver's license has just the initial.
The only easy solution I can think of there is you'll need to book flights under the passport name and then use your passport as your everyday ID on domestic flights -- an unsavory prospect -- unless you want to go to the trouble of changing your driver's license.
And that means a trip to the state motor vehicles department -- which in some states like New Jersey is a day-pass into a far circle of hell, near Exit 666.