The Bloggers
Subscribe to this Blog

Insta-CoGo: Is It Fair?

Cindy Loose

As CoGo reported in the Travel section's Coming and Going column Sunday, travelers can start signing up this week for a new, $100-a-year program that will allow them access to a special lane to get through U.S. customs quickly.

It's similar to the already existing "registered traveler" program. For $128, travelers who undergo a background check and fingerprinting or iris scans can use special lanes to speed through security at airports which have the program. The new program involving customs will open first at three airports -- Dulles, New York's Kennedy and Houston. If all goes well, it will be rolled out at other airports across the nation.

Critics of the older registered traveler program argue that it's not fair to allow people to pay to get better service from a government entity. Government officials have responded that the space in front of security counters really belongs to airlines, and so government isn't really involved.

Customs space, however, clearly belongs to a U.S. government entity. Should people be allowed to pay to get through lines faster?

On the one hand, CoGo is inclined to be sanguine: If you travel often enough to think it's worth $100 to avoid the pain of waiting in line, go for it. It's not making my line any longer, assuming that customs dedicates an extra person to the special lane.

On the other hand, CoGo worries: Who will take up the battle to make sure all lines are reasonable if the most frequent travelers don't have to worry about lines? That is similar to the argument about public school vouchers: If you lose the most involved, vocal and organized parents and students, the students left behind suffer.

What do you think?

By Cindy Loose |  May 13, 2008; 6:08 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo
Previous: The Monday Rave: In Praise of Slow Travel | Next: It Came From the Chat: Summer Savings Tips, Part 2

View or post comments

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I think Customs service is inept and ridiculous. It has slowed down dramatically and it affects all passengers. The government should be working to expedite its passport control and not dedicated time and effort to creating an elite service for those who can afford to pay.

Posted by: DB | May 13, 2008 7:52 AM

Ditto what DB said. Does the "special" service mean you only have to deal with half the normal problems instead of all of them?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 13, 2008 9:37 AM

They already allow people to pay extra for expedited service to obtain passports, so I'm not sure how this is philosophically different from that.

Getting through customs faster is only going to help those who carry their bags on the plane anyhow, as the hold up is usually waiting for the bags after clearing passport control anyway, and all the post-baggage-claim customs people do is collect the forms.

Posted by: ES | May 13, 2008 9:43 AM

"If you travel often enough to think it's worth $100 to avoid the pain of waiting in line, go for it. It's not making my line any longer, assuming that customs dedicates an extra person to the special lane."
---------------

If you really believe they will add extra staffing, then I'd love to live in your dream world. It will definitely make the regular lines longer.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 2:18 PM

Interesting point about the quicker line not helping if you have luggage. I stupidly hadn't thought of that. Then again, when I drag off a plane after a long flight I'd on the spot pay $100 just so I wouldn't have to stand in line and go sit down for a coffee before heading to luggage. Then again, would I pay $100 in advance--probably not, unless I were planning at least a few overseas trips.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 13, 2008 2:47 PM

I think this is more similar to expedited passport processing, where those who have greater need (or possibly greater resources) pay more to do it faster. Or Express mail instead of Priority Mail. etc...

If they were opting out of the system entirely a-la school vouchers, then I'd be against it, but if the money stays inside the system I think the new lanes are for the better.

Posted by: omars | May 13, 2008 4:28 PM

I think this is more similar to expedited passport processing, where those who have greater need (or possibly greater resources) pay more to do it faster. Or Express mail instead of Priority Mail. etc...

If they were opting out of the system entirely a-la school vouchers, then I'd be against it, but if the money stays inside the system I think the new lanes are for the better.

Posted by: omars | May 13, 2008 4:29 PM

Is this a US citizens only line or does it also apply to any nationality regardless of what procedures accompany that nationality? My experiences of US customs is that I'm through customs before my bags hit the carousel, but the foreign passport holders line is much more varied. Or am I confusing customs with immigration here?

(oh, and if you have checked bags you usually can't get coffee waiting for them after an international flight. After immigration you have to pass customs with your bags and can't reenter the baggage handling area).

Posted by: bluemeanies | May 13, 2008 6:23 PM

Is this a US citizens only line or does it also apply to any nationality regardless of what procedures accompany that nationality? My experiences of US customs is that I'm through customs before my bags hit the carousel, but the foreign passport holders line is much more varied. Or am I confusing customs with immigration here?

(oh, and if you have checked bags you usually can't get coffee waiting for them after an international flight. After immigration you have to pass customs with your bags and can't reenter the baggage handling area).

Posted by: bluemeanies | May 13, 2008 6:23 PM

I was assuming this expedited line was only for U.S. citizens, and even if that's not so, it would be for all practical purposes because I can't imagine too many foreigners would know about or go to the trouble of signing up and then going to Dulles or one of two other airports to get fingerprinted etc. unless they are coming here constantly for business or living here. But whether or not non-citizens can take advantage of this is a good question.

Posted by: Cindy Loose | May 13, 2008 7:48 PM

According to the Customs site, it's for US citizens, permanent residents, etc. - also, it won't affect staffing, because people who qualify will use an automatic terminal and will have their fingerprints scanned.

I don't remember what Dulles customs is like from my years in DC, but if you live in NY and fly internationally, you're just as likely to be going through customs in Newark or in other terminals at JFK than in terminal 4. I'd have to know I was flying more than 12x per year using flights that were always routed through JFK Terminal 4 before I'd give up my prints and submit to special security screening interviews for this program.

And this isn't worth it at all if you check luggage. Cindy, FYI, all of the areas where you go through immigration, pick up your luggage, and pass customs are secure, and you aren't even supposed to talk on a cell phone or check your blackberry - there sure as heck isn't going to be an opportunity to pick up coffee.

Posted by: ny | May 14, 2008 11:18 AM

I have the Nexus Pass which enables me to bypass the Immigration line going to and from Toronto (where I travel frequently on business). I also use a similar service here in the States called FlyClear which lets me go through a special lane. Both require an extensive background check,an iris scan, photo and fingerprints. For the frequent traveler who knows what to bring and not to bring these cards are a real timesaver. Even now, seven years after Sept 11, many people do not know what they can and cannot carry onboard a plane. This delays the lines going through security tremendously because so many people decide to argue with the TSA employees. My passes help me going out of the States and into and out of Canada. Anything that saves me the time of standing in line due to people not checking in advance what is and is not permitted is worth it. The same holds true coming back to the States. However you have to remember what I said - it's an extensive security check. You have to decide how much privacy you wish to give up for this privilege. So to those of you complaining...what have you got to hide?

Posted by: NYCanTraveler | May 14, 2008 7:26 PM

Customs is not the same as immigration! They are constantly conflated by people talking about travel. Im presuming that the author of this article meant to say that there will be an express line for immigration control. Customs rarely has anything like a line....you just hand in your form and stroll through (usually...).

Posted by: frequentraveler | May 14, 2008 11:51 PM

So now we are pointing out to potential terrorists who they should buddy up to to get bad things into the country? Sharp as a tack and funny as a rubber crutch.

Posted by: Wright | May 15, 2008 1:40 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company