SFO to add airport security express lane for approved travelers

Aug. 16, 2007

Travelers flying out of San Francisco International Airport will soon be able to whiz through security gates faster - if they pay a $99.95 annual fee and submit to background checks.

After refusing until recently to join the registered-traveler program, SFO has agreed to offer the program starting Sept. 6. Pre-screened travelers will get an identification card - encrypted with their fingerprints or iris images - which they can use to zip through a special security lane at the airport.

"It's like 'Mission Impossible,' " said Mayor Gavin Newsom, demonstrating the program by getting his own iris scanned at an airport kiosk Wednesday. "Eat your heart out, everybody else waiting in line."

Newsom was joined in announcing the program Wednesday by airport Director John Martin and Steve Brill, who founded Clear, the company that makes the technology.

The men's camaraderie was a far cry from last year, when SFO said it wouldn't use the program because of liability concerns raised by City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Brill fired back that the worries were goofy objections and the city attorney was a goofy general counsel who either doesn't know the law or was looking for an excuse.

Michael McCarron, spokesman for SFO, said Wednesday the city attorney had feared that if there was a security breach associated with the program, the airport or the city could be held liable. But under the airport's contract with Clear, Clear itself will be liable for any such breach, McCarron said.

Herrera did not return phone calls Wednesday afternoon.

Another bonus for the airport is that Clear will pay it $528,000 annually, like any other renter of airport space. The money will go into the airport's general fund.

In adopting the technology, SFO joins a growing group of airports, including San Jose, Orlando, Albany, N.Y., Cincinnati, Indianapolis, New York's JFK and Newark. Clear says 55,000 people have signed up.

To begin the process, travelers fill out biographical information at www.flyclear.com, which is used by the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a background check. Then, they visit designated kiosks where an attendant takes their photograph and scans their irises and fingerprints. Kiosks are up and running now in Terminals 1 and 3 at the airport and at the Hyatt Regency hotel on Embarcadero.

McCarron said SFO anticipates 10 percent of its travelers will eventually use the program. Now, the wait time at security check points is five to seven minutes, but those using the special lanes should see their wait time decrease to one or two minutes, McCarron said.

The registered traveler lanes have been dismissed by critics as "Lexus lanes" available only to those who can afford the yearly fee. Brill called the accusation absurd.

"The guy who gets to spend an extra half-hour at home with his family on Monday morning ... would probably reject the idea he's using a Lexus lane," he said.

"It's all voluntary," Newsom added. "If you don't like it, don't use it."

Online resources

To begin the Clear process, go to: