As business travelers know,
there often are two components to the airport security waiting game: first, a
queue that leads to a document checker who glances at boarding passes and IDs;
then, a subsequent and separate line that culminates in the actual security
screening. While some airlines and private-sector registered traveler providers
offer fast-track programs to address the first potential chokepoint, the U.S.
Transportation Security Administration is embarking on a pilot to speed the
second. If, and when, the two meet remains in question.
TSA this fall expects to
begin piloting its new trusted-traveler expedited security-screening program
with frequent flyers of American Airlines or Delta Air Lines and U.S. citizen
participants in U.S. Customs and Border Protection trusted-traveler programs at
airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami. TSA has yet to specify how it
intends to expedite the screening process for participants, though a source noted
the potential for travelers to keep shoes on their feet and laptops in their
bags. However, program participants still would wait in the same lines as other
travelers as they approach document checkers, a TSA spokesman said.
"Passengers would wait
in line like they typically would at the checkpoint, then at the travel
document checker, TSA would have technology that would be able to read the
boarding pass and identify those passengers as pilot participants," the
TSA spokesman said of the planned process. TSA expects to dedicate one
security-screening lane at each airport for the initial pilot, but the
screening technology in those lanes would not differ from those used in general
lanes, the spokesman confirmed.
While the aim of the program
is to expedite screening, TSA is making few promises, as it stressed in a
statement it would incorporate "random and unpredictable security measures
throughout the airport, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited
participants may not be steered by document checkers to that dedicated lane
every time they travel, according to an email sent to
some AA frequent flyers, which noted, "TSA will determine who participates in the
trial on a per-flight segment basis."
Still, TSA estimates "a
population of 5,000 to 8,000 passengers per day" will be screened on an
expedited basis in the first phase of the pilot, according to a spokesman.
"Once operationally ready," TSA expects to expand the pilot to other airports with Alaska Airlines, JetBlue
Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways.
Both American and Delta have
notified a subset of their frequent flyer bases about the program, requesting
their consent if they wish to be considered.
"We do not have a lot
of details at the moment as to exactly how it will work, though we believe the
concept has definite merit," according to an AA spokesman. "The
announcement was driven largely by the TSA, and many of the details are still
not worked out or announced."
The spokesman added,
"We do know that certain premium-level AAdvantage members will have the
option to opt in for consideration by TSA." In an email to some frequent flyers, Delta
noted, "Details on the opt-in process will
follow in future communications."
To participate in the
program, participants first must be vetted by TSA. The particulars of that
process remain unclear, though Pistole in a statement suggested participants
would "volunteer more information about themselves prior to flying."
Life In The Fast Lane
While TSA's efforts aim to
speed the actual security screening, airlines and other private-sector firms have
worked to get users there faster—often for a fee.
support to TSA's proposed pilot, registered traveler provider Clear president Bennet
Waters suggested his company's approach is complementary, not conflicting, with
TSA's. "The real future of a robust
and wide-scale approach to risk-based travel is going to require some sort of
partnership between the government and the private sector," he said in an
interview this month.
As for now, a TSA spokesperson
noted the pending pilot program "is separate" from the "front-of-the-line
programs" offered by private-sector registered traveler operators.
Still, Waters views Clear as
a potential partner, citing the company's experience in biometric identity
verification. That verification process, active in airports in Denver and
Orlando, enables users "to bypass the security document checker process,
which is typically where the long queue is, and go immediately to physical
screening," Waters said. Clear members pay $179 per year for that benefit,
though bulk sales and corporate discounts can bring that cost down.
While most of the largest
U.S. airlines offer some expedited security checkpoint feature for their most
loyal frequent flyers, some also are launching fee-based programs that offer
quicker access to other travelers.
For example, JetBlue last
month began selling as part of a bundle what vice president of revenue
management and sales Dennis Corrigan called "essentially a fast pass"
at security checkpoints at 15 airports, including Los Angeles, New York JFK and
San Francisco, with plans to expand to more. JetBlue "later this
year" plans to make that program available for stand-alone purchase.
US Airways in April
disclosed plans that it too was prepping an option for passengers to pay for
priority access to security screening and early boarding. Those ancillary
services conceptually are similar to fee-based streamlined airport processes
offered by American, Southwest and United.
The Industry Responds
Industry groups, including
the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition and the
Global Business Travel Association generally applauded TSA's trusted-traveler
BTC's praise, however, came with
conditions. "Few airline and security industry experts would quarrel with
the observation that treating all passengers as equal threats to the aviation
system is ineffective and wasteful," according to a statement. However,
TSA would need to address the shortcomings of its previous attempt at a registered
traveler program, which "failed on virtually every level," according
ASTA called the plan
"a solid step in the right direction,"
according to CEO Tony Gonchar, while GBTA called the pilot "an important next step in advancing our air