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"Optional tolls could speed up airport security"
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Optional tolls could speed up airport security
By Bruce Mohl
The Boston (MA) Globe
Travelers may soon be given the option of paying a toll if they want to move
through airport security checkpoints faster.
Just as state and local governments use tolls to make drivers pay for the
roads they ride on, the federal Transportation Security Administration is
considering charging travelers to cover the cost of a technology intensive
program that lets them move more quickly through airport security
The TSA's Registered Traveler program gives travelers special access to
security checkpoints and an exemption from most secondary screenings if they
submit to background checks and provide biometric identifying information.
The program has been tested at five airports, including Boston's Logan
International, for the last five months. Now the TSA wants to run another
test at Orlando International Airport, allowing private companies to operate
the program under federal supervision. The companies would be allowed to
charge participants an estimated annual fee of $50 to $100 to cover their
costs and turn a profit.
By charging participants, federal officials say, the government may be able
to quickly roll out the program nationally at minimal cost to taxpayers.
``Passengers have indicated they would be willing to pay a fee to expedite
the security process,'' said Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the TSA in the
Davis said the test in Orlando isn't set to go yet, but officials say it
should launch in the next several months. The TSA has held discussions with
the Greater Orlando Airport Authority and a New York company called Verified
ID Pass, which is headed by Steven Brill, who launched Court TV.
AirTran Airways has announced that it intends to participate in the Orlando
Unlike the five ongoing tests of the Registered Traveler program, which are
restricted to frequent flier customers of one airline at each airport, the
pilot project in Orlando would be open to any traveler who wanted to
The program might have special appeal for women travelers, who have
complained about the intrusiveness of secondary screenings.
A privatized Registered Traveler program is likely to attract criticism.
Privacy advocates have long raised concerns about the government gathering
detailed personal information about Americans, but those concerns probably
would be heightened if access to that information were turned over to
The privatized program also may foster more elitist grumbling at security
checkpoints. The TSA and its security procedures are funded by all
taxpayers, but not all taxpayers are treated equally at the TSA's
Airlines, for example, are allowed to give their best customers speedier
access to security checkpoints. Participants in the Registered Traveler
program also have priority access to the checkpoints. If the Orlando pilot
proves successful and the program is rolled out nationally, that same faster
access may become available to any registered traveler willing to pay an
annual fee. In effect, paying customers will be able to move to the front of
the security line.
Jay Rein of Holliston, an American frequent flier who has been participating
in the Registered Traveler program at Logan since it launched in August,
says travelers waiting in the regular security lines have definitely taken
note of his quick access to security.
``There were clearly people watching with envy,'' he said.
Once a Registered Traveler participant is verified using a fingerprint or
iris scan, his or her boarding pass is stamped and the participant goes
through security just like any other passenger.
Registered Travelers are exempt, however, from random secondary screenings
as long as they don't set off alarms going through security.
The goal of the Registered Traveler program is to narrow the focus of
secondary screenings by eliminating passengers not considered risks.
About 10,000 volunteers are participating in the five tests, most of them
frequent flier customers of the airlines involved.
The chief drawback of the current test is that it is open to participants
only at their home airports.
The five airports and airlines participating are Logan (American Airlines),
Minneapolis-St. Paul International (Northwest Airlines), Los Angeles
International (United Airlines), George Bush Intercontinental in Houston
(Continental Airlines), and Ronald Reagan Washington National (American).
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