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What it takes to fly through security

John Dimsdale Jun 25, 2008

What it takes to fly through security

John Dimsdale Jun 25, 2008


Renita Jablonski: A growing number of frequent flyers are paying for the opportunity to move to the head of security lines at airports. The Registered Traveler Program will be three years old in July. Clear is the largest company to offer the service. It landed a milestone last month, with 1 million fast-lane travelers processed. Two million will probably come before the year is out. Marketplace’s John Dimsdale has more.

John Dimsdale: The Transportation Security Administration has to approve passengers for the Registered Traveler program. Fingerprints and eyes are scanned. The yearly fee runs about $130.

But when the wait at some security lines is 40 minutes or more, Steven Brill says membership is worth it. He’s the founder of the largest airport express lane company, Clear.

Steven Brill: It never takes more than four minutes. We have concierges who help them divest materials like their cell phones and retrieve them at the other end. And our people have a predictable experience.

There are now express lanes in 18 airports and Brill hopes to expand to the country’s 25 busiest airports by the end of the year. Around 200,000 people are using the paid lanes. And Bill Connors with the National Business Travel Association says companies are beginning to pay the annual fee for their executives all in the name of productivity.

Bill Connors If you have an executive that’s traveling 30 times a year and you’re making them sit in lines for one hour on each end of a trip, the productivity gains you’ve just realized are a lot better than the hundred bucks a year it cost to be in the program.

The reaction at Washington’s Reagan National airport, which opened express lanes in February, has been mixed.

Passenger John Quest, a public policy consultant, worries about the intrusiveness of registering with the government.

John Quest: No, that’s too Big Brother for me. I’d rather have privacy than have my iris on some database and my fingerprints — which they probably are already, but you know, I’d like to at least feel like I’m semi-anonymous.

But businessman Peter Stephens hates standing in line, and is thinking about signing up.

Peter Stephens: You can’t use your Blackberry or anything like that. You can’t speak on the phone when you’re standing there. So, if I could pay a wee bit more to move through, I would.

Registered Traveler customers still have to shed their shoes and computers before going through security. But businesses like Steven Brill’s are promoting technologies for faster screening. His goal is to make the entire process take no more than 30 seconds.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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