By Sara Pralle, Contributing Editor, AVISIAN Publications
Increased airport security since 9/11 has led to a frustrating flying experience for many travelers. While few deny the need for safeguards, frequent flyers desperately want a means to avoid the lines and the hassle these security measures have created. Enter the Registered Traveler program, initiated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but now operated by the private sector. From the initial launch in Orlando, a handful of other airports have signed on and creative ways to expand the issuance opportunities are coming to fruition.
The TSA developed the Registered Traveler (RT) program to expedite passengers through airport security by enabling participating travelers to use more automated, dedicated checkpoints provided they had submitted to a voluntary background check. TSA began pilot programs in 2004, with participants providing basic personal information enabling the TSA to conduct a security assessment to determine eligibility. If approved, the volunteer provided both fingerprints and an iris scan, allowing either biometric to be used for positive identity verification at the airport.
The five federally managed pilots – Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, Huston Bush Intercontinental, Boston and Washington, D.C. – concluded in October of 2005. While they all employed biometric technology, each test site followed varying procedures with regard to the credential and the method of biometric storage and comparison. In the end, all pilots achieved the primary goal generating data about how RT can enhance security and customer service through biometric technology. As a result, TSA began working with interested airports, the travel industry, and vendors to begin operating a fee-based RT program nationwide.
TSA specifies the card, the biometric, and more
Earlier this year, the TSA issued guidance detailing how the national RT program would work. The requirements include the use of a smart card as the mandatory credential and the utilization of ten stored fingerprint biometrics for identification. It also specified a formal redress procedure for any participants disqualified during the background check.
Because the RT program will be operated by the private sector, multiple companies will likely offer services to the nation’s airports. The responsibility for screening and overseeing this pool of providers will fall to a single certification body. By April 20, 2006, the TSA will select this third party entity charged with certifying service providers, managing compliance, and establishing requirements for airport checkpoint verification providers. Screening for consumer participants in the program will begin June 20, 2006.
Verified Identity Pass takes a lead position
In addition to the initial five pilots launched by TSA, a sixth program was launched at the Orlando International Airport as a public-private sector partnership. This program is still underway and has spawned a number of other RT sites. The vendor for the Orlando RT is Verified Identity Pass, and its product name is “Clear.” To date, more than 17,000 passengers have enrolled in the Clear program. Its members have their own security line at the airport and enjoy a maximum wait time of three minutes, compared with 31 minutes experienced by the airport’s regular flyers.
As the program goes national, individual airports must decide whether they wish to participate. Airports in San Jose, Indianapolis, and Sacramento have already signed deals with Verified Identity Pass. The company has also recently signed a contract with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to take the program across the nation’s border. In Canada, the plan is to establish partnerships with as many as 10 airports before the June launch date.
Even the hotel industry is embracing this evolution in travel and customer service. Hyatt Hotels has agreed to purchase 10,000 Clear memberships from Verified Identity Pass. The hotel plans to offer them as part of the complimentary packages for its Gold Passport Members.
What’s the cost to consumers not in this select group? While cost will likely vary depending on the individual service provider, memberships should range between $59-$125 a year (in Orlando, Clear cards are offered for an annual fee of $79.95). However, expect to see RT memberships being offered in a variety of customer benefit packages.
As Verified Identity Pass CEO Steven Brill explains, “In addition to the Hyatt deal, we are developing partnerships with other luxury hotels, credit card companies, and both American and Canadian airlines to co-market our product and provide their premium customers with complimentary or discounted membership into the program.”
With enrollment kiosks planned for major office buildings, hotels and airports throughout the country, the market for Registered Traveler memberships is immense. And the possibilities for collaboration between the transportation industry and other companies catering to the business traveler promise to be innovative and far-reaching.