Just recently, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an important initiative to bring more coherence to the policies governing how we manage the border between our countries. This is an initiative that is long overdue and most welcome.
It is well-known that the U.S.-Canada border is the longest peaceful border in the world. When you especially consider the borders China, for example, has with both Russia and India and the tensions caused in those places, you can see how fortunate we are here to have a neighbor such as Canada. I must admit, I did not know a lot about Canada before I took this job and had only traveled there a couple of times. I now go to Canada several times a year, have a NEXUS card, and have visited seven of the 10 provinces (still have Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland to go). It has become a favored travel destination.
With all the security problems and challenges the U.S. has to face, it has always amazed me how little common sense is used in border policy with Canada. For example, if you fly from Montréal to Denver, you and your bags are deemed safe and secure; indeed, you pass through U.S. customs and immigration in Montreal. So, for all intents and purposes, for the Montréal to Denver flight, over 2,000 miles of the United States, you are considered a domestic passenger and you and your bags are considered secure. But once you land in Denver, while you can walk to your connection to Grand Junction, your bags must be re-screened. It makes no sense, it is a waste of resources and diverts attention from something that might actually be a threat. I am told that nearly 10 percent of the bags screened in Minneapolis are re-screened bags from Canada. It is nuts.
But through the recently announced initiative this bag re-screening requirement, something ACI-NA has led the fight to get rid of for some time now, will be gradually eliminated. This is great news for travelers, and even better news for the security of our aviation system. There are a number of other key initiatives in the Obama-Harper agreement that, I hope, will one day lead to our two countries being considered a single perimeter.
Next, I would like to see this requirement lifted for flights from the European Union, and perhaps from other key allies. These were important recommendations of a federal commission I served on in the last administration, appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Called the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Commission, we made these and other common sense recommendations to enhance national security while ensuring that legitimate travel was well-facilitated. During that commission, my seat mate was J.W. Marriott, Jr., CEO of the Marriott hotel chain. Marriott put a great deal of energy and passion into the commission’s work, though I am sure he had been on lots of commissions before. We had a number of good conversations about these and other issues; he’s a good man. Marriott announced his retirement yesterday, which was big news in the Washington area as Marriott is a locally based company, and it was big news in the travel business, for obvious reasons. I certainly wish him well and thank him for his courtesies to me.