| Tighter airport security may send Iberia packing
Tighter airport security may send Iberia packing
By Paola Iuspa
Officials of Spain's Iberia Airlines say frustration with post-Sept. 11 security efforts affecting international travelers may cause them to shift their Miami-based Latin American operations to another country.
"We hope to be able to continue operating in Miami," said an Iberia spokeswoman in Madrid who asked not to be identified. "But we are looking at other alternatives, just in case things don't change."
Those alternatives, she said, are in other countries.
Customs and Immigration & Naturalization Services stepped up controls at US airports after 9/11, said Mark Anderson, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department.
The new measures doubled the two hours it used to take for in-transit passengers to pass through airport security, said Miguel Southwell, assistant director for business development for Miami-Dade Aviation. These persons, he explained, come from abroad and stop in Miami either to change flights or wait for planes to be serviced before boarding for another destination.
Iberia, which has daily two flights from Spain to Miami and four from Miami to Latin America, opened a hub in Miami in 1992. Before that, its mini-hub was in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Before Sept. 11, in-transit passengers got off a plane and waited in a restricted lounge to re-board, Iberia's spokeswoman said.
But now, Mr. Southwell said, customs and immigration checks in-transit passengers and bags, taking up to four hours.
Most in-transit passengers are now released to mingle with the public in the terminal and must spend hours in lines waiting to be screened. In-transit travelers without a US visa are escorted to an isolated room where they wait to board planes. Baggage is taken out of from planes, inspected and put back aboard.
"Something that was simple is now becoming a nightmare for our passengers," the Iberia spokeswoman said. "Passengers get all anxious running from one part of the airport to another to be searched again. Flights get delayed, our customers upset. It reduces the airline's productivity level."
Although federal agencies said they designed the changes to improve detection of terrorists and bombs in bags, the new system does not increase security, Mr. Southwell said.
"For example," he said, "before Sept. 11 American Airlines used to X-ray about 50% of its in-transit luggage. Now airlines are forced to hire personnel to inspect randomly about 10% of all the in-transit bags. Security was better before."
The new measures also increase airline costs, particularly in Miami, Mr. Southwell said. Miami International is the US airport with the largest concentration of in-transit passengers, he said, causing it to have the longest customs waiting lines and forcing airlines to hire more people to implement new regulations.
"It puts MIA at a disadvantage compared to other US airports," Mr. Southwell said.
He said airport officials have been meeting with federal agencies to improve security and cut the time in-transit travelers must spend here.