My colleague John "Ringo" Doyle attended a press conference Jan. 29 held by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. In his Jan. 30 story (see here for free) in Aviation Daily, Thompson likened the Registered traveler program as a "glorified frequent flyer" program.
"I'm not certain that a new program where people pay extra money to get in a lane will do any better because they still will have to go through the same screening. They're just in a different lane," said Thompson, but he vowed to work with industry. Verified Identity Pass founder Steven Brill acknowledged that there was little difference in screening now, but that the process would change when TSA approves the shoe-scanning technology in the security kiosk. Verified ID operates the Clear RT program at Orlando International Airport, Mineta San Jose Airport, British Airways JFK Airport Terminal 7 and Indianapolis International and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International airports.
And thanks to our good friend Mark at Upgrade: Travel Better for alerting me to this (free, but registration required) New York Times op-ed piece on the Registered Traveler (RT) program. And USA Today columnist Joe Brancatelli has his own take on RT here.
As you know, we've written several pieces on the progress of the Registered Traveler program. My most recent Aviation Daily story is here (subscribers only). Verified ID had been operating its Clear RT program at Orlando , the only one in existence -- until now.
The Times piece, written by Bruce Schneier, calls the Clear program "two ideas rolled into one: one clever and one very stupid." He agrees it's a clever idea to have people pay for better service, which means being separated from less-frequent travelers who don't know the drill and slow lines down. It also means that users can take advantage of technology by eliminating the need to remove shoes, and explosives detection machines can eliminate the need to remove coats and jackets.
But Schneier thinks that the background check is stupid. He states that there isn't a terrorist profile that a pre-screening program like Clear can uncover, noting that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Atlanta Olympic pipe bomber Eric Rudolph could have obtained RT cards. He also criticizes the government's unreliable list of known terrorists.
Brancatelli has a different problem with Clear. One, it can take weeks, or even months, for potential Clear members to be vetted and receive their cards. But even with the card, members still have to show government ID and pass through a TSA security checkpoint just like the rest of us. And at that checkpoint, members still have to do things like remove their laptops, put liquids in a clear plastic bag, remove coats, shoes and jackets and run everything through the x-ray machine and walk through the metal detector.
Bracantelli notes that machines to scan shoes are in place at JFK and Indianapolis, but haven't been turned on. And several stories have been written about how the scanners aren't working as well as expected because they can't tell the difference between "good" and "bad" metal.
In Aviation Daily and Airports, I've written stories polling the top U.S. airports about bringing on an RT program. Even now, most continue to take a wait-and-see attitude despite the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) clearance of the plan in December, which I wrote (subscribers only) about in the Dec. 12 issue of Aviation Daily. Some noted that their lines were short to begin with and that the program wasn't needed. Others noted separate lines for first-class and airline frequent-flyer elite passengers made Clear unnecessary.
My take on this? You have to show people -- and airport operators -- a clear (forgive the pun) reason why it would benefit them to sign up for and create an RT program. For some people who are on government watch lists, it's a convenience not to get the dreaded SSSS at the bottom of the boarding pass, which forces you to be submitted to screening every time you fly. But here are my questions -- will it get me through security faster every time? Can I avoid having to undress every time I got through the checkpoint?