The future of airport security isn't that far away -- about 230 miles to the north, actually.
At Orlando International Airport, select passengers are having their eyeballs scanned or their fingerprints analyzed moments before breezing through security on the way to their flights.
Just bought a ticket? Only flying one way? No problem. A government database has already confirmed these passengers' backgrounds, so they don't have to wait for the standard extra pat-down for suspicious travel patterns.
Verified Identity Pass runs the Orlando service, the only ongoing test program in the Transportation Security Administration's effort to expand similar systems nationwide.
With frequent fliers making up a large chunk of air travel, officials hope to ease security lines by pre-screening repeat customers and moving them through special check points.
The 9,000 Verified ID customers paid about $80 for their perks in Orlando. The main benefit is a special line, where fingerprints and irises are checked (customers pick the procedure they prefer). They still must pass through a metal detector, remove their shoes as needed and take laptops out of their carrying cases for screeners.
But experts expect ''trusted traveler'' lines to do away with those hassles too as the programs advance and screening companies pay for more advanced equipment. Or TSA could draft new, looser rules for ''trusted'' travelers.
Chicago's O'Hare airport, for instance, already lets certain passengers step on a special shoe screener that eliminates the need for most people to walk through the metal detectors in their socks.
Now the aviation industry is waiting for TSA to let all airports create their own systems. Last month, TSA ended five other pilot programs -- in Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Washington's Reagan airport -- and said the tests were ``successful.''
Verified ID, run by Court TV founder and magazine publisher Steven Brill, hopes to run trusted-traveler operations across the country once TSA gives the green light.
Some airports have formed a consortium to help establish a nationwide screening system. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is a member; Miami International is not, according to the consortium's website.
Greg Chin, a spokesman for MIA, said airport executives are still looking at the issue, which he described as a bit of a prickly one.
''Some passengers object to having other passengers allowed to move through the check-in process quicker,'' Chin said in an e-mail.
(It's worth noting that Brill's Verified Identity Pass chose Verified ID as its nickname, not ``VIP.'')
Chin said the Miami airport is reviewing the test-program performances and will look at how things work out at other airports.
But don't expect to pay your way through a speedy security line at MIA anytime soon -- the airport hasn't issued a request-for-proposals for a verified identity operator, and that process takes at least a year.
Steve Bellemy, a spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale airport, said that airport is eager to get a trusted-traveler program going. ''We'd like to do something,'' he said, adding that the airport, like MIA, is studying the issue.
Speaking of airports and security, here's a fairly helpful website for trying to plan the speediest trips possible. It lets you track average and maximum wait times at security lines for any airport, depending on the day and time. (Quick hint: You'll wait as long as 18 minutes at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International at 7 a.m. on a Monday, but only 7 minutes at 7 p.m.)
A VOTE FOR TAM
In my last column, I asked readers to share their hints on making the best of an overnight flight to South America, a well-known leg for many South Floridians. Here are some highlights from the Inbox:
Eveliny Bastos-Klein, the Four Seasons Miami's spokeswoman, said she tries to fly TAM (www.tamairlinescom) for her regular trips to Sao Paulo, Brazil, mainly because the food is better than on American and even the coach seats have individual televisions. Once she's there, she stays at the Fasano hotel ( www.fasano.com.br; 55 11 3896 4000) in the middle of Sao Paulo's business district.
'The service is great; it has a nice gym and the restaurant is `the place' to take clients for a lavish business dinner,'' she wrote.
Jeffrey Sharlach, chief executive of the Jeffrey Group, a Miami marketing firm focusing on Latin America, said he always pays the $500 that American Airlines charges to bump you to business class (that, plus 50,000 miles).
''Having spent all those miles and dollars, the temptation is to enjoy the food service, but I find I'll get a better night's rest if I forgo that -- and save the calories to enjoy once I arrive,'' he wrote.
His strategy: book the latest flight possible, eat dinner at home, brush his teeth, don comfortable clothes, and head for the airport. Then he puts on his eyeshades, ear plugs and noise-reducing headphones. American hands out the headphones for passengers, but Sharlach says it's best not to wait. ''You're cutting two hours off your sleep time by not buying your own,'' he wrote.
Speaking of the Inbox, reader Janet Carabelli needs help finding service for her Treo digital device in Europe and in South America. She wants a service that will work both in the United States and overseas. Anyone have suggestions or warnings? Carabelli says she's on the verge of buying two Treos to solve the problem. Send your thoughts my way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE CLEAN CAB
Finally, a special nod goes to Elima Louima, Miami-Dade County's taxi cab driver of the quarter.
He won the nod for making sure a passenger got her wallet back after leaving it in his cab, packed with credit cards and cash.
When Sanaz Arkani-Hamed returned to Chicago wallet-less from a Miami trip, friends and co-workers told her to forget about it. Then Louima's dispatch company, Crown Taxi, called to say Louima had turned in the wallet.
''His actions speak to more than his good character and consideration,'' Arkani-Hamed said in a Miami-Dade press release announcing Louima's award. ``He is an asset to the City of Miami.''
Louima, 46, came to the United States from Haiti. The county's ''Taxicab Chauffeur of the Quarter'' award brings a plaque and a $500 cash award.
Louima, a part-time driver, said he works ''all over,'' including MIA. His cellphone number is 786-663-3493.
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