Airport 'Lexus lanes' closer to a test run

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 05/08/08

High-speed, paid security lanes for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have moved a step closer to reality. But it's still unclear when — or even if — they will begin operating at the world's busiest airport.

Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that he has recommended that a contract be awarded for a pilot program for the so-called Registered Traveler program.

Johnny Crawford/STAFF
Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta has recommended that a contract be awarded for a pilot program of high-speed, paid security lines.

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But DeCosta said a series of meetings among airport officials, the airlines, the Transportation Security Administration and the vendor chosen for the program will be needed before he makes a final decision on the paid lanes.

"We've got to see whether a pilot is feasible," DeCosta said. "I'm not making any judgments on that. But I can't have those discussions unless I go ahead with a contract."

DeCosta declined to name the vendor recommended for the program because he said the company will not be notified by mail until later this week. The New York-based Clear program, run by Court TV creator Steve Brill, and the FLO Corp. have bid for the program at Hartsfield-Jackson.

There are more than a dozen paid security lanes operating at airports around the nation, most of them run by Clear, and about 140,000 customers have paid to join the program.

About 6,000 people in metro Atlanta signed up for the program after airport officials announced late last year that they were accepting bids for the paid lanes. Some vendors estimate that up to 200,000 customers might eventually use paid lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson, which handles 86 million passengers a year.

The paid lanes primarily appeal to business travelers, the road warriors who fly numerous times each month and are willing to pay a fee — about $130 a year — for a faster trip through security. Users must undergo an intensive background check by the TSA and have their biometric information — fingerprints and iris scans — encoded on a card used to access the lanes.

Proponents of the so-called Lexus lanes say they guarantee a trip through airport security in about five minutes. Opponents say they discriminate against travelers who can't afford the annual fee and raise civil liberties concerns.

Hartsfield-Jackson has struggled with long security lines, which can run 40 minutes or more on the worst days. The airport recently announced a $25 million plan to create more free lanes at the airport in an attempt to reduce security wait times to no more than 15-20 minutes.

There are now 28 total lanes at the airport, but there will be 32 when the construction project is completed late this summer.

DeCosta said officials will have to determine whether they can implement the paid lanes while the free lanes are being built.

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