Friday, December 16, 2005

US no-fly list vexes travelers from babies on up

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sarah Zapolsky was checking in for a flight to Italy when she discovered her 9-month-old son's name was on the United States' "no-fly" list of suspected terrorists.

"We pointed down to the stroller, and he sat there and gurgled," Zapolsky said, recalling the incident at Dulles International Airport outside Washington in July. "The desk agent started laughing. ... She couldn't print us out a boarding pass because he's on the no-fly list."

Zapolsky, who did not want her son's name made public, said she was initially amused by the mix-up. "But when I found out you can't actually get off the list, I started to get a bit annoyed."

Zapolsky isn't alone.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 28,000 people have applied to the TSA redress office to get on the "cleared list," which takes note of individuals whose names are similar to those on the terrorism watch list, but does not guarantee an end to no-fly list hassles.

The TSA does not reveal how many or which names are actually on the list, and complaints do not get names removed since they refer to suspected terrorists. The best innocent travelers can hope for is a letter from the TSA which it says should facilitate travel, but is no panacea.

In addition to babies, the victims of mistaken identity on the no-fly list have included aging retirees and public figures such as Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

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