Security checkpoints have become a genuine pain for air travelers. Where once you could breeze right through the x-ray scanner and head for the boarding gate, now you must endure careful checks of your carry-on luggage and perhaps even of your person. It's the legacy of September 11th and a necessary step toward keeping air travelers safe. But the delays are increasing and passengers are grumbling. Frequent flyers,especially, are complaining about the slowdown and the hassle caused by long security lines.
Enter the Trusted Traveler program, the brainchild of an airline industry committee working on ways to improve airport security. With Trusted Traveler, anyone who wanted to forgo long airport security lines would authorize the government to conduct a background check and take their thumbprint or an iris scan of their eyes. Once cleared, they would receive an identification card encrypted with their "biometric ID." Airports would have reserved checkpoints where passengers could present their card, have their fingerprint or iris scan matched to the card's information, and be passed through to the boarding area. This type of prescreening would reduce lengthy lines and let frequent travelers avoid much of the current airport hassle. "From my perspective, it makes more sense to subject the people I know a lot about to a lesser degree of security and the people I don't know anything about to a greater degree of security. It just makes a lot of sense to spend the finite amount of security resources we have on the folks who are unknown," says Dirk C. McMahon, Northwest Airlines Senior Vice President for Customer Service.
Experts say that the Trusted Traveler program won't appeal to everyone. Those who fly infrequently won't need to go through the rigorous background checks necessary to be labeled a trusted traveler, and those with something to hide or those with concerns about privacy won't want the government checking their bona fides. For frequent travelers, however, the program could mean valuable minutes saved, hassles avoided, and a smoother airport experience.
For now the program is just an idea; the Air Transport Association is working on a proposal for the Transportation Security Administration and the Homeland Security Department that it hopes will put a 90-day pilot project at Northwest and Midwest Express using already-screened airline personnel into operation by the end of the year. If all goes according to plan, the Trusted Traveler program could be in place at Northwest by mid-2003.
About the Author
Laura Quarantiello is a freelancewriter specializing in air traveland the airline industry. She is the author of ďAir-Ways:The Insiderís Guide to Air Travel. http://www.tiare.com/airways.htm