Flight attendants in coming months will get the same expedited screening at airport checkpoints available to airline pilots, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.
In a move intended to reduce checkpoint congestion while improving security, flight attendants will be allowed to display credentials instead of undergoing physical screening. They will still be subject to random, unpredictable searches, however.
TSA Administrator John Pistole said the change is in keeping with his philosophy of "risk-based" security, because it speeds up screening of known "low-risk" travelers, while allowing TSA screeners to focus on unknown travelers.
Flight attendant representatives have long argued that flight attendants deserve the same treatment as pilots because they undergo identical background checks and are entrusted with access to the cockpit.
The Known Crewmember program is "good news" for U.S. aviation, flight attendants and the traveling public, said Veda Shook, head of the Association of Flight Attendants.
"We are the last line of defense in security aboard the aircraft," Shook said.
In addition, the program will eliminate flight attendants' "uncomfortable" practice of jumping to the head of the security line so they can make their flights on time, she said.
In May, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security instructed the TSA to include flight attendants in the Known Crewmember program.
Flight attendants -- there are 90,000 of them in the United States -- will be eligible if they work for U.S. airlines that participate in the program and are flying from U.S. airports. When flight attendants present their credentials to the TSA officers, the identifications will be checked against an up-to-date database of program participants.
The TSA has been phasing in the program for pilots. To date, nearly 1.4 million pilots have been screened at checkpoints under the new system.
The TSA expects it could take up to 12 months for airlines and their service providers to make the necessary system modifications and fully implement this change. Flight attendants could begin to experience expedited screening as early as this fall, and by year's end it could be implemented at more than 30 airports.