Airport security `FasTrak' debuts at Oakland

Article Created: 03/27/2008 12:11:37 PM PDT

At first, Oakland International Airport officials were skeptical of the new program that promised travelers a quick trip through security checkpoints. The checkpoints, they argued, didn't get that backed up.
But Thursday morning those same officials were praising the Oakland arrival of Clear, the largest of three private companies that provide the Registered Traveler service in concert with the Transportation Security Administration.

"We have the other two airports in the Bay Area providing that service, so we have to provide that service,'' said Steve Grossman, director of aviation for the Port of Oakland, which runs the airport.

On Thursday the company, which already operates its Clear Lanes at San Francisco and San Jose Mineta international airports, opened a lane each at security checkpoints in both of Oakland's terminals.

And customers are clamoring for it, according to Clear's founder, Steven Brill, at a press conference in Oakland's Terminal 2.

"We are now signing up 1,000 people a day,'' said Brill, who also founded Court TV and American Lawyer magazine. "In the Bay Area, we're about to verify, through one of our lanes, our 100,000th passenger."

Nationwide, Clear has about 124,000 customers, 25,000 of them who signed up at Bay Area airports for the service, Brill said. Clear members pay $100 a year plus a $28 TSA vetting fee. Seventeen U.S. airports now have Registered Traveler security lanes, all but two run by Clear.

The checkpoints



are staffed by a greeter, a verifier and a concierge who guide each passenger through the process of swiping their translucent Clear card, verifying their identity through retinal and fingerprint scans - all members are pre-screened by the TSA - and walking their luggage right to the TSA carry-on baggage scanner.
A sign between the Clear Lane and the public security line warns passengers that Registered Travelers may be allowed in front of other passengers who have waited in line.

The passenger is still required to surrender shoes and metal belts like everyone else, but the concierge helps gather up those things before and after scanning.

One of Brill's new customers, Tom Mead, is a senior vice president at San Mateo-based Webcor, a major construction firm that has built San Francisco high-rises and is now building a cathedral in downtown Oakland.

"I'm back and forth all the time," Mead said, between the Bay Area and Webcor offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. "This streamlines my travel time. Sometimes I spend an hour waiting in security lines."

The beauty, currently, of being a registered traveler is making trips to the airport more predictable, Brill said.

To illustrate, Grossman said that when he was to fly with his family on the day before Thanksgiving, he allotted an hour just for the security line on that busiest of travel days.

"There was no line. We got through and had an hour-plus to kill," Grossman recalled. "I would have rather spent an extra half-hour at home," which Clear memberships could have permitted.

But the program has been criticized for providing little more than a pass to the head of the line, and no relief for other aviation security hassles.

"There is NO security improvement, only promises of enhancements in the future," e-mailed airport security consultant Stephen Irwin, who used to work at both Oakland and San Francisco airports.

While the TSA had yet to agree to give registered travelers any advantage over normal travelers in booking flights or avoiding questioning at check-in, Clear members are well-positioned to reap such benefits eventually, Brill told reporters.

"Our members have one of the only paths to effectively get you off the (so-called `no-fly') list," he said, because they have already been screened by TSA and are positively identified each time they go through the Clear Lane.

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