Registered Traveler Gathers Momentum, But Can't Consistently Speed Fliers to Gates

You may save time, but you'll still have the hassle because many features of this new program don't yet work.


"If you travel five days a week, you know the game," said Jay Seggetti, a Santa Monica producer of TV commercials who said his work takes him away from home about 20 days per month.

"I can spot the line that's going to have problems."

Other regulars, such as David Sapoznikow, a market researcher from Seattle, said their elite frequent flier status already entitled them to use special security lines at some airports.

But a couple of San Jose travelers expressed enthusiasm after I described the program.

"I'd sign up for it in a heartbeat," said Kurt Richarz, a technology salesman from Boulder, Colo., who flies twice a week. "If you save 30 or 40 minutes, it's worth it."

Big companies are looking into it too, at least for key employees. While I was at the airport, a representative of Google was touring the Clear kiosks.

Caleb Tiller, spokesman for the National Business Travel Assn. in Alexandria, Va., which represents about 2,700 corporate travel managers and providers, said demand for the program had been "really high" in Orlando.

Dismissing start-up glitches as "hiccups on the way," Tiller predicted that hundreds of thousands of travelers would eventually sign up as the program spread to more airports, making it "exponentially more valuable."

In an interview, Brill of Verified Identity Pass Inc. defended his decision to roll out Registered Traveler before all the technology was approved.

"If you build a house," he said, "wouldn't you install the Internet lines before you get a computer?"

He added that his company was working closely with the TSA to obtain needed clearances.

"Our goal is to keep adding to the steps that people don't have to take to get through security," he said.

Meanwhile, program members in Orlando, where Monday morning waits at regular TSA checkpoints recently averaged less than 15 minutes but ranged up to 37 minutes, can rely on clearing security in one to five minutes, Brill said.

Predictability is the key, he added.

In the future, he said, Registered Travelers should be able to skip some security steps too. Among them:

* Removing shoes. When members sign on to program kiosks in Orlando, detectors scan their shoes for explosives and weapons, allowing most to keep them on.

But about a third are flagged to remove their footwear anyway, Brill said, because the metal detectors cannot distinguish between weapons and harmless shoe components. Until this problem is fixed, the detectors are turned on only in Orlando, he said.

* Removing coats. A kiosk device called an Itemiser FX, designed to detect trace explosives on fingers, was undergoing "final calibration and testing" in TSA's laboratories, Brill said. When approved, it should clear Registered Travelers to keep their outer garments on.

* Taking laptops out of bags. Verified Identity Pass has plans to calibrate kiosk equipment to remotely evaluate laptop computers and briefcases for security threats.

When will these wonders materialize?

Brill estimated several weeks for the Itemiser FX and the next-generation shoe scanner and up to a year for the laptop scanner, depending how TSA testing proceeds.

"They make the security decisions," he said. "We don't."

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez declined to provide a timetable.

"We don't get into dates or time frames," he said. "We don't want to mislead companies or set up false expectations for customers."

Here in Silicon Valley, which may be the least technophobic spot on the planet, travelers are still waiting for answers.

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Express lane

Under the new screening system, Registered Travelers go through security in designated lanes, using prescreening kiosks. In theory, this will mean shorter waits.

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The process

1) Registered Traveler enters separate security lane, shows ID, member card and boarding pass.

2) He or she walks to kiosk, inserts a member card and places finger on reader or looks into iris camera.

3) Machine confirms identity, does preliminary checks.

4) Traveler takes receipt and gives to a "concierge."

5) Concierge guides traveler through usual TSA screening, which would be streamlined if kiosk has already prescreened for weapons and explosives.

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