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Virtual Event - November 10, 2021
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In charting a more measured course for its proposed nationwide registered traveler program, the Transportation Security Administration last week said it would again solicit public comment while testing later this year at as many as 20 airports. As the program develops, the agency will hear an earful from the business travel community, both in favor and opposed.
For those companies interested in enrolling their frequent travelers, formalized processes involving travel management companies, private-sector firms and government entities are beginning to emerge. But for those objecting, questions range from the political to the practical. Foremost is general uncertainty about the exact advantages for enrollees, which are not likely to be clarified before TSA issues a rule-making proposal later this year.
For now, TSA said participants receive "substantive benefits linked to enhanced checkpoint screening measures ... modified to afford greater customer service." It described the check-in process as "expedited and more convenient," including "a dedicated registered traveler lane" where warranted and "additional screening benefits" that "may vary" by location. All this without disadvantaging the general flying public, according to TSA assistant secretary Kip Hawley.
The pace of development will be determined by how quickly airports add their consent and how effectively private-sector vendors--including such industry giants as General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Unisys--connect TSA-approved local programs to a national network.
"Corporate interest right now is medium," said Ovation Travel Group executive vice president Michael Steiner. "Clients want to hear about it, but until there is information on which locations will be involved and other details on what goes into this, the jury is still out."
As more airports join, registered traveler programs would become more applicable to more frequent travelers. Steven Brill, CEO of program provider Verified Identity Pass, said many airports, more TMCs and an airline are poised to sign agreements and foster development.
Thus far, the program is limited because only a handful of airports (Cincinnati among the latest and largest) officially have committed. "Until [Verified] actually signs these additional airports, it is hard to get a corporate client to commit," said Dean Sivley, COO and general manager for Cendant's Orbitz for Business and Travelport, which last September announced a deal with Verified. "Corporations obviously want this in the markets where they have the most lift. I understand why they are hesitant and waiting to see how it comes out."
The lack of ubiquity is just one component of broader uncertainty, if not outright opposition, within some industry travel circles. The Air Transport Association, representing most major U.S. carriers, faulted the program for its "limited and questionable benefits."
Sources also pointed to pre-existing frequent flyer express lanes at many airports designed by airlines with similar goals in mind and well-documented frustrations with TSA since its formation in 2001. Others, including iJet Intelligent Risk Systems CEO Bruce McIndoe, object to what participants must surrender: their fingerprints, iris scans, biographic information and access to personal files for a background check and a "TSA Threat Assessment with perpetual vetting." Not to mention upwards of $80 or more.
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives said that although a growing number of companies are willing to reimburse business travelers, many of its members recently indicated concerns over data privacy, the fate of information on those no longer participating and resolution procedures for individuals denied membership.
Despite the opposition and list of technical challenges, many including the National Business Travel Association are rallying behind the concept of a national registered traveler program. A common refrain is that any voluntary program speeding business travelers through airport security checkpoints can only be helpful.
Anticipating growing interest among their client bases, TMCs are aligning with Verified. TQ3Navigant and Travel & Transport announced deals this month, joining Cendant's Orbitz For Business and Travelport. American Express in January said it was soliciting bids from program providers, but this week offered no update.
"There has been debate as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. We continue to think it is a very good thing and that the concerns people bring up are very manageable," Sivley said. "When Verified knows that they are likely to get into certain airports, we can go out and talk to corporate clients about pre-sale agreements, which say that as long as this airport goes up with a registered traveler program, we will commit to a certain amount of licenses. There is a huge groundswell in the corporate marketplace."
Brill reported similar progress by Verified in working directly with corporations, including an effort underway in New York. "We started with investment and financial services firms and will be looking to do it with law firms," he explained. Though volume discounts are available, Brill said "corporations would rather have us do enrollments in their offices than get a break on the price."
After buying into the idea, a corporation would arrange to have on-site enrollment or instruct its travelers on where to register. From there, background checks would be conducted and biometrics stored in a central Transportation Security Clearinghouse with "robust safeguards to protect personal privacy." A TSA official told Management.travelthe agency "by the end of this month" would select a company to develop verification and validation standards.
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