No need for speed; Airport has no plans for fast security checks

Memphis International Airport has no plans to offer fast-track security checks for people willing to pay $100 a year and submit to background checks. The reason, quite simply, is that Northwest Airlines doesn't believe the Registered Traveler perk...

In Memphis, Cox said, the issue of designated security lines for Registered Travelers merits little attention because security lines overall are short.

And in smaller airports, like Memphis, assigning one security line to registered travelers lengthens the time other travelers have to spend in line.

"We made it very clear that it cannot be used to cause disadvantage to the average Joe," said Sari Koshetz, TSA spokeswoman. "We also made it clear that we will not allow a reduction in security."

The airlines themselves have resisted Registered Traveler for several reasons. The one they don't like to talk about is the bad blood between them and TSA. The airlines have traditionally felt the agency was indifferent to their struggles, particularly searches that make people feel that driving may be easier.

The hard feelings turned into policy when the airlines were forced to pay for security measures they felt should have been part of securing the homeland, not just protecting aviation.

The other is that the airlines are reluctant to give up the goodwill they receive from their elite boarding, which many passengers consider a perk.

"Then along comes the Registered Traveler program, which looks exactly like what they are already providing their best customers. Do you think they are going to want to give that relationship to a Registered Travel vendor? " Mitchell asks.

Mitchell says airlines are making a mistake by not being involved and are relating all their influence to the other players.

"If we lose even five minutes in the process, people opt for the car, or not to travel or take the train," he said. "That hurts airlines and airports because of the profitability of the business traveler."

Northwest says it would rather see TSA focused on handling the security needs of the one-third additional passengers the Federal Aviation Administration predicts will by flying in the United States by 2015.

Mitchell says an efficient, well-marketed Registered Traveler program would reduce wait times for everyone.

"In order for that to happen, you have to a very broad marketing appeal. You can't say you can have any color you want as long as it's black. You have to have different benefits and different price points to appeal to as large a segment as you can."

In a survey of 2,400 travelers published July 30, 82 percent of respondents polled by the Business Travel Coalition said they wish their preferred carrier would embrace Registered Traveler .

Thirty-eight percent said they would be "Extremely" or "Very Interested" in paying $199 if it meant extra benefits, including checking luggage through a hotel concierge desk.

The survey was commissioned by FLO, a security vendor in the Registered Traveler program.

"Three hotels in Boston are piloting the program right now," said Mitchell, a consultant to FLO.

"You bring your bags to the desk and leave them when you check out. TSA scans them in the hotel. Then they go on a secure truck to the airport.

"It means you're not schlepping bags in cabs all day because TSA has control of the bag."

Other benefits could include discounts on airport food, rental cars and limousines.

"It's a limited number of airlines that have financial wherewithal or management time to even look at this. But an unimaginable number of entrepreneurs," Mitchell said, "are ready to innovate."

-Jane Roberts: 529-2512



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