Speedy Lines for Trusted Fliers

Travelers who want to take part in these programs would voluntarily submit personal information, allow fingerprints and iris scans to be taken, and pass a government background check. They would then be given cards identifying them as registered travelers eligible for fast-lane treatment. There was originally a widespread expectation that these certified-as-safe travelers would get less rigorous security screening. But on sober second thought, experts recognized that terrorist groups could easily qualify members with clean backgrounds as registered travelers. The screening of registered travelers must be identical to, or every bit as rigorous as, the screening accorded ordinary folk.

At Orlando International Airport, a pilot program has been operated for the past year by a company founded by Steven Brill and working in collaboration with General Electric and Lockheed Martin. More than 27,000 people have signed up and paid fees of $79.95 a year, a measure of their frustration with long and uncertain waits in security lines. What they get in return is a designated lane that leads directly to one set of the airport’s metal detectors and X-ray scanners. In effect, Mr. Brill’s customers get preferred treatment similar to what some airlines in other major airports grant their first-class passengers or highest-mileage frequent fliers.

The Orlando project claims registered travelers go through its lines and pass through airport screening machines in five minutes or less. Airport officials believe the program has reduced waiting times for regular passengers as well. The screening machines are operated by regular government-supervised inspectors, and the Transportation Security Administration has announced that it expects to levy a fee — probably $30 per enrollment — to cover its vetting and administrative costs. The government must keep monitoring to make sure it is charging enough.

For the future, Mr. Brill hopes to gain government approval for new screening technologies that would let his customers keep their shoes and jackets on, thus eliminating the annoying and time-consuming ritual of removing the items for X-ray screening. That would be fine, as long as any approved technology his group develops could also be bought for the lines processing regular customers.

Air travelers have long since become used to the fact that they receive different levels of service depending on how much they pay and how often they fly. If Mr. Brill or other entrepreneurs can find a business plan that allows them to make a profit by providing registered travelers with faster lines, without compromising security or adding to the inconvenience of other passengers, it would be a welcome development. But the best option would still be a broader program to improve screening for all passengers, thus rendering the designated fast lanes superfluous.

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