American Airlines to keep exclusivity on cruise-luggage program
By Suzy Valentine
The US Transportation Security Administration lacks manpower to accommodate other carriers wishing to follow American Airlines' lead with a program to transfer cruise passengers' luggage directly to the airport, a spokeswoman said.
Lauren Stover, the agency's spokeswoman in Miami, said the airline's arrangement with Royal Caribbean is working well but there isn't the capacity for more airlines to launch similar programs. She said two other national airlines had expressed interest.
"There have been no issues encountered," she said, "but I don't think we have the screeners to be able to dedicate to another airline at this stage.
"It does require funding and extra personnel. Resources have to be dedicated to the airport because of limited funds. We have to continue to focus on the airport. Future initiatives could put pressure on the airport, increasing delays there, which goes against the whole philosophy of the program."
There are 45,000 screeners nationwide, 1,800 based at Miami International Airport. Ms. Stover said she doesn't foresee an increase in manpower sufficient to accommodate such arrangements.
"There won't be an increase in screeners at MIA - the total allocation is working at full capacity. We have to ask ourselves, 'Can we afford to pull more workers from MIA to the seaport?' If we get more screeners, who knows?
"We do have some explosive-detecting device in place, but we don't have the people to operate the equipment," she said.
Capacity issues aside, Ms. Stover said, the two interested airlines had been deterred for financial reasons.
That leaves American Airlines with the exclusive arrangement for the time being.
"The project continues to involve Royal Caribbean and American Airlines. We're in our 94th week, and the program seems to be quite successful," said Ms. Stover.
"It's got rave reviews from passengers. It is a breakthrough for passengers so that they can clear customs and check luggage all in one go."
Martha Pantin, spokeswoman for American Airlines, also said the program is working well.
"We're still operating on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, serving up to two ships," she said. "We're very pleased with the program. It makes it a seamless process for those disembarking from a cruise."
Ms. Pantin said the program is good for the local economy. "It means the passengers can enjoy more of Miami," she said. "They get to spend more time and more money here."
Andria Muniz, public information officer for the Port of Miami, said passengers are enjoying the city more now that they are less encumbered.
"I think it's a positive experience for passengers," she said. "It benefits them, and it makes their experience of the city a better one."
The project processes about 2,000 pieces of luggage each weekend, or a little more than 100,000 a year. The Transportation Security Administration, which works closely with Miami-Dade police, the US Coast Guard and the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, has moved more than 200,000 cases.
Port of Miami is home to 18 cruise lines and handles 4 million passengers per year.