June 16, 2004

Plan to cut fliers' waiting time to be tested

SECURITY: LAX is to be one of five airports where frequent travelers would bypass lines if they clear background checks.

By Ian Gregor and Toby Eckert Daily Breeze

Los Angeles International will be among five airports to serve as testing grounds this summer for a new program aimed at speeding frequent fliers through security screening checkpoints, sources familiar with the program said Tuesday.

The Transportation Security Administration is scheduled to announce today that the Registered Traveler Program also will be piloted at airports in Minneapolis, Houston, Boston and Washington, D.C., the sources said.

A mid-July rollout is planned at LAX, where it will be tried at United Airlines checkpoints in Terminals 6 or 7, they said. TSA, Los Angeles International and United officials declined to say whether LAX would be a test site.

Under the voluntary program, people who fly at least twice a month could undergo background checks and be issued Registered Traveler cards, featuring biometric fingerprint or eye scans. The cards would allow them to go through express security lanes, where they would be exempt from secondary searches unless they set off metal detectors.

The program will be tested for 90 days at each airport, sources said. This fall, the TSA will determine whether it resulted in shorter screening waits. If the program becomes permanent, participants also may be exempt from taking off their shoes and coats and unpacking laptop computers, sources said.

"To be able to get through security more quickly would be nice," said Patrick Donnelly, 32, communications manager for the Carson-based Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, which takes commercial flights.

"It's one less headache among many when you travel."

Alex Vieira, an IBM management consultant who flies almost every week, said he finds the idea of breezing through security appealing, but worries about biometric data security and fears terrorists could circumvent the system.

"I think I'm leaning toward just doing it and hoping for the best," said Vieira, 49, of Torrance.

Representatives of the Air Travelers Association and the Air Transport Association, a powerful airline lobbying group, said they support the program.

"What frequent travelers are really concerned about is they don't know whether the security line is going to be five minutes or an hour and five minutes," said David Stempler, president of the travelers association.

"We think that it will do a great job of pre-identifying the good guys who don't represent a threat," said Doug Wills, spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

"You volunteer to give up information about yourself. It doesn't raise privacy concerns" like CAAPS II, a computer program that selects travelers for additional screening based on factors, including where people have traveled and how they bought their tickets.

The TSA's goal is for security lines to be no more than 10 minutes long, but waits can be triple that at some LAX checkpoints during busy travel times. The TSA has been considering a Registered Traveler Program for more than two years, since stricter post-9-11 security measures led to longer screening lines.

Airlines initially will recruit passengers for the pilot program and fewer than 10,000 people will take part nationwide. Participants will not pay fees for their cards under the pilot program but will be charged if it becomes permanent.

Publish Date:June 16, 2004