TSA considers extending 'registered traveler' program
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TSA considers extending 'registered traveler' program

July 27, 2004/AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has become less stressful and less time consuming for businessman Pat Bassett.

Bassett is a member of the new "registered traveler" program for frequent flyers, which allows them to bypass regular security checkpoints by agreeing to background checks and identity verification through fingerprint and iris scans.

He's found that there's rarely a wait at the new "registered traveler-only" checkpoint at the airport. On the busiest days, more than 200 people sail through the checkpoint, according to Northwest Airlines.

"You almost have your own private line and you can go right through the line very quickly and efficiently." Bassett said. "I think it's really actually pretty neat."

In fact, the trial run is going so well that the Transportation Security Administration is considering extending the life of the project.

Bassett is one of roughly 2,400 people who volunteered to become a registered traveler at the Twin Cities airport, after Northwest Airlines invited him to take part. In exchange, Bassett allowed the TSA to run a background check and take electronic scans of his fingerprints and irises.

He doesn't even have to pull out his driver's license at the special checkpoint. A computer verifies he's the person who's name appears on the ticket by scanning Bassett's fingerprints and his eyes.

Bassett must still pass through a metal detector and his carry-on luggage has to be electronically scanned just like everyone else's. But he won't ever be pulled aside for a random search that other travelers are subject to.

Over the next six months the TSA will test the registered-traveler program at five airports using about 10,000 volunteer travelers.

Congress appropriated $5 million to fund the trial program. It hasn't been decided who would pay if it becomes permanent: the federal government, the airlines or travelers.

The TSA's director of credentialing, Justin Oberman, said the program will be deemed a success if it improves customer service without jeopardizing security and demonstrates that biometrics the electronic fingerprint and iris scans can be used on a large-scale to verify identity.

"The technology appears to be working extremely well," Oberman said. "I think our intention is if this continues to be as successful as it has been to date we would want to absolutely extend it and keep it going."

But other travelers question the special treatment afforded to registered travelers.

Barbara Dvorak, who waited recently in a relatively short regular security line en route to Florida, said she doesn't buy the TSA's argument that checking travelers' backgrounds improves security.

"I just think everybody should be treated the same." Dvorak said. "I don't think anybody's time is more important than anybody else's."

But Bassett said he hopes the registered-traveler program will become a permanent fixture in his travels and believes it will encourage growth in business travel.

"Time is money. The less time you have to wait, the more time you're productive, whether it's on the phone or whether it's through other means to get business done," Bassett said. "So yes, I would think that will help businessmen come back if they know that there's less time waiting in line."

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