Paying for Shorter Security Lines: What is the New Trusted Traveler Program?

Easing the Pain of Airport Security

A few weeks back, I reported on some of the coming innovations in airport security, and it’s time for an update. Here’s why:

  • Many passengers say they’ll pay for easy security
  • Airline pilots will soon test “trusted traveler”

Quick review: Flyers want to be safe in the air, but no one likes those often long and always tedious lines at the TSA checkpoints; plus, if your airport security experience includes the dreaded enhanced pat-down, it’s even worse (trust me, I’ve been there).

So how much do we passengers hate security?

Paying for Better Security

According to the national non-profit U.S. Travel Association, many people would willingly pay for a better security experience; in fact, the majority of travelers, both business and leisure types, would pay as much as $150 a year for an improved security experience. Are you one of them? Tell us on Facebook what you’d be willing to pay.

Better days are coming, though, according to the TSA leadership. Look for the agency’s new “trusted traveler” program to get underway by the end of 2011; in fact, testing is expected to begin this summer for airline pilots at Chicago’s O’Hare International, and if that works out, it will be expanded. Passengers will get to experience┬áthe trusted traveler program at select airports by November or December.

There is, of course, a “catch”.

Security: Privacy vs. Convenience

Not all the details of the trusted traveler program have been made public yet but it is understood that participants will have to undergo background checks and take part in in-depth interviews, and if they pass these “tests” to prove they are indeed trustworthy, they can get a quicker security experience. Exactly how quick, and what kind of experience it will be is not yet known, but the big question is, how much information would you be willing to divulge?

Another important question still out there: how much it will cost? Frequent flyers such as business travelers and those who enjoy multiple vacations a year may find a pay-to-play option attractive, but what about the great majority of passengers who fly just once or twice a year? People may tell pollsters they’d be happy to pay, but words are cheap, and I’ll give you an example: travelers say they want airline fees rolled into the ticket price, but when push comes to shove and airlines actually try that, consumers quit buying tickets in significant numbers.

Future of Airport Security: Up in the Air

We have been given dazzling visions of the future, courtesy of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and others, who’ve laid out a Jetson-like security scenario of tunnels filled with machines that will check us out as we stroll to the gate, but I’m going to take the old wait-and-see approach. One thing I do know is that security will never again be the breeze it was in decades past.

In other words, keep taking your shoes off.

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Published: June 29, 2011