Registered traveler programs – dreamed-up in the aftermath of 9/11 and promoted as security enhancements – are finally taking off.
Twenty U.S. airports host registered traveler kiosks and fast-track lanes, double the number of a year ago, and more are expected to sign up late this year and next.
Registered traveler (RT) programs entitle paying members to cut their wait times, get help with the mundane routines of airport security such as retrieving their belongings from the plastic bins past security and gain access to a wide range of travel extras, such as off-airport parking. Some members even use their encrypted high-tech cards to pass through security faster at NFL games.
In return, members pay from $100 to $200 a year, depending on the provider and level of service. Members provide basic personal information – name, address, driver’s license – get their photograph taken, give fingerprints and have their iris scanned. The data are encoded on a smart card used at airport kiosks and are supposedly safe from hackers, thieves and loss.
The Transportation Security Administration, which authorizes vendors and provides broad oversight, has certified seven companies to provide registered traveler programs. So far, only two are major players, Verified Identity Pass’s (STOCK QUOTE: VIP) Clear, the first and largest program, and FLO Corp. (STOCK QUOTE: FLRP).Steven Brill, who founded American Lawyer magazine in 1979 and Court TV in 1991, started VIP in 2004. “In the post-911 era, we have to take new measures to protect ourselves and yet not destroy our way of life by strangling the free flow of people and commerce. Somehow, we have to find common sense solutions that don’t make everyone a suspect and create security bottlenecks everywhere we go,’’ Brill explains.
Registered traveler programs emphasize comfort and personalized service. And Clear card’s 135,000 paying members move through airport security 30% faster than non-members, according to VIP.