Airports, security companies and the federal government are mobilizing to launch the first nationwide program that speeds “trusted travelers” through airport security. I look forward to this as I was part of the TSA Registered Traveler Pilot Program. That pilot program ended September 30th so TSA could “evaluate the overall program and anticipates making an announcement about an ongoing Registered Traveler Program” (according to the email I received). This is a great program. From registration through implementation, it was easy, painless and quick. And it truly paid off for those of us who travel often. If you get a chance to join, it’s well worth the nominal fee they’re going to charge.
One example of the payoff was last March during Spring Break. I arrived at the airport (Houston Intercontinental) to find even the Onepass Elite (Continental airlines’ frequent flyer program) lines backed up and tales of hour-long waits to get through security. (One problem with most airports’ Elite lines is that even after you show your boarding pass and ID, you get shuffled into the “general population” metal detectors. With the RTP, you have a dedicated line and dedicated metal detector. It took about 11 minutes from the time I entered the airport to the time I got to my gate.
Using the program was simple. I generally check in for my flight online, so when I get to the airport, I’d just walk right up to the RTP line, show my boarding pass and ID, put my card in the machine and let it scan either my fingerprints or retinas (which took about 15 seconds). When it completed, I would run my bag through the scanner and walk straight to my gate. It never took more than 15 minutes from my car to the gate.
The only downside to the pilot program was that it was only good for one airport. So I couldn’t use my card at any of the other airports in the pilot. But the new “trusted traveler” program aims to issue a set of standard guidelines, so travellers can enjoy the benefits at any participating airport.
TSA’s former acting deputy administrator Thomas Blank said in June that registered travelers might not have to remove their coats and shoes or take laptops out of cases when they go through metal detectors. Blank said the fee would be $30 to $50.
The TSA says Registered Traveler can improve security by allowing airport screeners to focus on passengers who have not cleared background checks.