Speedy Check-In Still Faces Hurdles: Air Industry Fearing Higher Costs

Just months before the launch of a program aimed at speeding some travelers through airport security checkpoints, the airline industry is growing dubious about the effort.

Mar. 5--WASHINGTON -- Just months before the launch of a program aimed at speeding some travelers through airport security checkpoints, the airline industry is growing dubious about the effort.

The industry's lobbying group says the Registered Traveler program may generate business for security vendors but won't necessarily satisfy passengers.

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where security wait times have vastly improved without the new system in place, officials are also skeptical.

And passengers remain leery about the prospect of releasing iris scans, fingerprints or other personal information in exchange for the promise of convenience.

"I like to protect all of my personal information," said Camille Sparkman, who was recently headed to Denver from D/FW. "Where does it go? Where is it housed? Who's monitoring it?"

The Registered Traveler program, conceived as passengers grew frustrated with security measures after 9/11, is scheduled to launch nationwide in June after more than four years of planning.

For a fee of $80 to $100 a year, travelers would register with a private firm and undergo a background check by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Once approved, passengers could enter an express security lane or skip to the front of a line, identified by their biometric information.

Proponents say it could reduce a 30-minute peak wait time to three minutes, as it has at Florida's Orlando International Airport, the only U.S. airport where the program currently operates.

More than 15,000 passengers have enrolled in the program, which processes 10 percent of daily passengers despite using just 6 percent of the lanes, said Steven Brill, chief executive of Verified Identity Pass Inc., which is leading the race to register travelers.

The company says it hopes to offer additional equipment that could eliminate the need to remove shoes and coats or take laptop computers out of their bags. General Electric Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. have signed up as partners to help Verified Identity roll out the program.

"This is going to be an evolving process depending on how the technology evolves and how TSA gets comfortable with the process," said Mr. Brill, the entrepreneur who launched Court TV and the American Lawyer publications.

Getting ahead in line is the only upside approved so far by the TSA.

"We're still going to have to see what the benefits will look like based on what kind of programs come back from private industry," said Andrea McCauley, a TSA spokeswoman. "We do have high goals for the industry."

Going private

The TSA ran a small program at five airports to test the concept. But private firms now would be responsible for running any program, with oversight by the agency's staff. Airlines or airports would have to pay for additional security costs the program creates, Ms. McCauley said.

Some airport and airline industry officials say they're worried that they could get stuck with a big tab.

The airlines have been fighting efforts to raise security fees that would fund the TSA and other government-run programs. Responsibility for choosing vendors would rest with airports, which traditionally have not been directly responsible for air security.

It would be a new role for D/FW, one that has left officials there with countless questions about what they could be getting into.

"We have yet to see any data or any proposal that would show objectively that they can provide what the customer is asking for, and provide this service at a cost that this service can sustain," said Jim Crites, D/FW's executive vice president of operations.

Cost vs. benefit

The Air Transport Association, the airline lobbying group, wants the program suspended, saying it "would appear to serve more as a revenue-generating scheme than a security program that would benefit passengers."

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