When your day-to-day business travel experience is faced with lines at the airport, cuts in travel and entertainment budgets, and bureaucracy that slows down the international business travel experience, it’s tough to step back and notice if progress has been made to improve your business travel experience.

But the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) has established a dozen priorities that its leadership views as important to the business travel industry, and recently released its 2009 grade for how the U.S. federal agencies are doing when it comes to business travel: C+.

Given that the Obama Administration made health care legislation a top priority over nearly every other federal priority, some may think that this is a pretty optimistic grade. After all, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization wasn’t completed (which includes comprehensive overhaul recommendations to improve aspects of the airline experience), and regulation on business travel and model ports of entry received minimal improvements. Traveler taxes were given a neutral grade.

So why did the government still get a favorable, average grade? Progress was made in the areas of transportation infrastructure, international registered traveler initiatives, and the terrorist watch list and passenger redess. According to Shane Downey, director of public policy for the NBTA, the following highlights the association’s business travel priorities and their perceptions of accomplishments in each of these areas:

Transportation Infrastructure

2009 Grade: A. Investments in transportation infrastructure are a significant achievement that will pay dividends to the traveling public for decades to come. 2009 activity:

  • The stimulus provided $8 billion for the expansion of high-speed rail, and approximately 24 applications have been filed requesting more than $50 billion with decisions expected in 2010. Also, the Administration unveiled its high-speed rail proposal in April, which identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors across the country.
  • The stimulus also included $27.5 billion for highway investments, $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation investments, $430 million for construction of border points of entry, and $1 billion for security checkpoints and upgraded explosive detection technology for checked baggage.
  • The fiscal year 2010 Transportation appropriations bill included $2.5 billion in grants for high-speed and intercity rail and significant funds for highways and mass transit.
  • Congress was unable to complete action on the surface transportation reauthorization due to a dispute over funding sources.

International Registered Traveler

2009 Grade: A. 2009 was a successful year for Global Entry. The successful program now needs new marketing resources and additional bilateral agreements.

  • In April, CBP launched the first bilateral agreement with a foreign government under which citizens of the Netherlands can apply for the Global Entry program and U.S. can enroll in the Netherlands ’s Privium program for expedited entry into Amsterdam . Applicants will be subject to threat assessments and must pay the enrollment fee for both programs. The joint program is called FLUX, which officials hope other countries will join in 2010.
  • In August, DHS expanded the Global Entry Program to an additional 13 airports – Newark , Honolulu , San Francisco , Orlando , Dallas , Detroit , Boston , Las Vegas , Sanford/Orlando, Seattle , Philadelphia , San Juan , and Ft. Lauderdale . The program currently has around 26,000 enrollees, with an additional 50,000 applicants expected annually.
  • The formal rule establishing Global Entry was published in November of 2009.
  • NBTA offered the first on-site Global Entry enrolment opportunity during the NBTA Convention in August.

Terrorist Watch List and Passenger Redress

2009 Grade: B. With implementation timetables extended, Secure Flight execution has gone smoothly to date. However, important redress legislation has stalled in the Senate. 2009 activity:

  • With considerable support from NBTA, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely (FAST) Redress Act, H.R.559, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), in January. Senate re-introduction by Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) office is pending evaluation of the Secure Flight program.
  • TSA has begun implementation of Secure Flight in stages. The first stage, implemented on May 15, requires the name on a reservation to match the name on a traveler’s government-issued ID. On August 15, the second stage took effect requiring domestic airlines to collect each passenger’s date of birth and gender when making an airline reservation. Implementation appears to have gone more smoothly than anticipated, although some NBTA members continue to experience problems coordinating Human Resource rules and frequent flyer accounts with airline requirements.
  • NBTA has acted as a Secure Flight information resource for NBTA members, having hosted a webinar on the topic in June and a convention education session in August.

Airline Performance and Aviation Congestion

2009 Grade: B+. The Obama Administration has fulfilled a major priority of the business travel community by announcing new tarmac delay rules. 2009 activity:

  • NBTA submitted comments in March to the Department of Transportation (DOT) support ing private sector solutions to tarmac delays during a rulemaking about passenger protections and consumer rights However, continued airline incidents prompted NBTA to switch positions and advocate for strong passenger rights legislation.
  • FAA legislation passed by the House includes requirements that airlines publish tarmac delay protocols, and language included in the Senate bill would require deplaning after delays of three hours or more. However, delays in the broader FAA bill have slowed enactment of any passenger rights provisions.
  • DOT issued new rules in December 2009 prohibiting U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers among other passenger protections. DOT also issued its first airline fines for tarmac incidents in November 2009.

Originally published February 9, 2010