Registered traveler program still at the gate

Rudy Maxa

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: There's been a lot of talk about speeding up the check-in process at the nation's airports. The idea is you exchange certain personal information for being able to move through the usual procedures faster. Up until now, that's all it's been: talk. But our Savvy Travler Rudy Maxa says one airport in Florida has gotten the ball rolling.


RUDY MAXA: The incredible fact is, only Orlando's airport has any kind of extra-speedy security check for frequent flyers. It's a program named CLEAR and it's operated by a private company.

You pay an annual fee of $79.95, provide your fingerprints, a scan of your iris and other personal information. Then you receive a pass allowing you to walk through a specially marked line manned by that company's employees.

CLEAR customers can make it through Orlando security in between four seconds and three minutes. I flew out of the Orlando airport just two weeks ago and waited 12 minutes to go through the regular security line, though waits there can reach up to half an hour.

Two years ago, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, set up five pilot programs in airports around the county to try to devise something similar. Those pilots ended last fall. Then, the TSA promised that by June 20, more airports would be permitted to offer registered traveler programs. That deadline passed without a public peep.

So what's taking so long? I mean airports can't wait to make money. They stand to share in the revenue when companies like CLEAR open in places like San Jose, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. We'll be paying $80 per person per year for the privilege of bypassing long lines.

Both a CLEAR spokeswoman and a TSA spokeswoman told me yesterday that a consortium of government and private industry groups are working hard to reach standards from both a technical as well as a security point of view that will allow for a smoothly operating registered travelers' program.

But technology can't always instantly match business desires. Setting uniform standards, such as getting competing systems in different airports to recognize you wherever you fly out of, is taking longer than expected.

A TSA spokeswoman predicted new airports would be up and running "in the second half or this year." My guess? Summer flowers will be long gone by that happy day.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Rudy Maxa is Marketplace's travel expert in residence. He'll be back in two weeks with more travel tips. And in Los Angeles, I'm Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day!

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