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Cutting in Line

Cindy Loose

Last time I checked, many months ago, authorities at Reagan National, Dulles and BWI airports were considering a Registered Travelers program -- the mechanism by which you pay about $100, agree to provide info like fingerprints or eye scans, then go through an expedited security line at the airport. Called again today, hoping I hadn't missed any developments, and it seems nothing has changed. In fact, at Dulles and Reagan National, the program seems more uncertain: Last time I talked to them I had the impression they were getting ready to choose a provider. This time, seems like they're back to questioning whether they'll have a program at all.

Any of you out there chafing at the bit?

Frequent travelers I've spoken with who use programs at Albany, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Newark, New York, Orlando, San Jose, Westchester, N.Y., LaGuardia, San Francisco and Reno-Tahoe are gung ho, saying it both saves them time getting through the security line, and saves them time because they can get to the airport later, since they know almost to the minute how long it will take them to get through the line. But airports, and people who haven't bought into the system, seem very skeptical.

First off, does it seem unfair that joining the program gets you faster service? Doesn't seem that way to me -- I'd compare it to choosing to pay a toll to go on a big fast road, rather than taking the slow scenic byway.

But secondly, is being first in line enough of an incentive to lay out $100 a year and go through the pre-screening process?

Some of the companies were hoping their Registered Traveler programs could use an explosives screening device that would mean their customers wouldn't have to take off their shoes, but that isn't working out so well. The major provider is trying out helpers who assist members in getting their stuff in and out of the bins. Surveys of business travelers say that fast lines are most important, keeping shoes on is second, and not having to take the laptop out of its case would be their next-highest priority.

The laptop thing I have yet to understand, anyway: Can't an x-ray machine see through the laptop bag? Be nice if security could figure out a way to remove that requirement.

By Cindy Loose |  September 12, 2007; 7:04 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Rants
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I love this idea. I only travel a few times a year and when I do I always have my kids with me. I feel badly that we are not moving at the same clip as the business travelers but we are slow, curious and generally not in a hurry. I think it makes all the sense in the world to have a special line for people who use the airports the most. People flying 50+ times a year deserve some kind of assistance. Selfishly, the next time an fast moving business traveler is showing his displeasure as a take the shoes off my kids, fold up the stroller and produce all ids and airline tickets form the diaper bag I can ask him why he is not in the expedited line. Yes, segregate the experts from the novices. Everyone would be happier.

Posted by: Chesapeake Beach | September 12, 2007 7:44 AM

How about making the lines move faster for everyone? First, hire more screeners. I live in Denver and there is usually a 30-45 minute wait to get through security at DIA and they never have all the lanes open.

Second, why do you have to take laptops out? As Cindy said, if the X-ray machine can't see through a laptop bag, then how can it see through other bags?

Third, do hand screening of strollers off to the side. We have little kids and it's a pain in the rear to have to fold up the strollers and put them through the x-ray machine, not to mention it's pretty time consuming and holds the line up. Take families off to the side and hand screen the strollers so they don't slow the line down.

Posted by: Dennis | September 12, 2007 9:17 AM

I fly 2-3 times per month, mostly to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale (I avoid Miami at ALL costs) and Orlando, always using Dulles. As a United Premier Executive I can typically use the Premium passenger line, but this is not always a benefit, especially in Atlanta. While there is rarely a line to enter security, it all seems to fall apart once you get inside and the TSA folks start funneling everyone else to the shorter line. What is the point? I would support a RT program and pay $500+ per year if the line was restricted and not made an overflow for the masses.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | September 12, 2007 9:27 AM

As a DOD employee with a security clearance the expedited procdeure should apply to all DOD employess and military members who have valid security clearances without a fee. Why tie up resources when you dont have to?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 12, 2007 10:01 AM

Hiring more TSA screeners, who actually can think and make rational decisions, plus examining which rules makes sense (xrays yes, taking off shoes, no) would expedite the lines for all travelers.

Posted by: db | September 12, 2007 10:27 AM

I fly 2-3 times a week and would gladly pay $100 to be first in line

Posted by: Air Commuter | September 12, 2007 10:48 AM

I only take three or four trips a year and I would pay $100 to skip the lines!! It's worth that much just to remove the uncertainty about how long it will take to get through security.

Posted by: h3 | September 12, 2007 2:29 PM

Of course when you have all these people paying $100 for the special line, it will become just as long as the regular lines.

Posted by: Joe | September 12, 2007 2:53 PM

One for the rich and one for the rest of us, e.g. the justice system.

Posted by: Mickey | September 12, 2007 3:28 PM

Part of the reason for the delay is the disorganized process for getting ready to go through the scanners. They have million-dollar machines with plastic dish tubs stacked on folding tables. You can't do anything with your stuff until you get right up to the front, where you have to collect a tub for your coat, one for your laptop, one for its case, and one for your shoes.
How about having those tubs further back, maybe with carts that can hold several of them, or making the conveyor belts longer?
If we are going to be doing this game for the rest of our lives, how about improving the process for the passengers!

Posted by: Jeff L | September 12, 2007 3:41 PM

Uh...since when does being a DOD employee with a security clearance equal "OK not to screen and not a threat?" Robert Hansen and Aldrich Ames had them and look what we found there! You can't swing a dead cat in the metro DC area without hitting a dozen people with clearances, so this hardly seems like a great solution.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | September 12, 2007 3:53 PM

I love this idea. When I go to Europe I never fly economy, and thus I've taken advantage of the "Fast Track" service at Heathrow several times. "Fast Track" is for folks flying business class, first class, and Concorde (in prior years); I believe individuals with status in various airlines' frequent-flyer programs get access as well. Unlike the "premium passenger" line at Dulles, the "Fast Track" line doesn't dump you in with the economy passengers when you get to the screening--it's a completely separate queue with a separate magnetometer and x-ray station. They've also got "Fast Track" for immigration. It's not always as fast as it might be if you come through at the wrong time of day, but it generally moves right quick given that the people using this queue tend to be people who are familiar with the process (i.e., you don't get held up by the dimwit who flies once every five years and doesn't have her boarding pass or ID handy and is loaded down with metal objects in her pockets.....which happened the last time I was at Reagan).

Seems to me that there's nothing wrong with the idea that if you pay more, you get more.

Posted by: Rich | September 12, 2007 4:16 PM

re: laptop computer. Doesn't the TSA know that the bomb command is in the win.ini file?

Posted by: Bill | September 12, 2007 4:37 PM

In the UK we have the IRIS program which is optical scanning. It is free and surprising few people take advantage of it. I am a resident alien (US citizen) in the UK and I was allowed to register. When I fly back from the States it takes me 5 minutes to clear immigration instead of an hour or more. Great stuff.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 13, 2007 6:48 AM

I'd clearly pay the $100 to get through the line faster. I fly to Houston a lot and there is a One Pass Elite line in security. However TSA at IAH does not monitor this line and it is just as crowded as the other lines.

Just never get caught behind the elderly or families with small children in the security line.

Posted by: DaninAnnapolis | September 18, 2007 9:25 AM

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