By Kelli B. Grant
Travelers may soon be able to avoid some of the hassles of airport security lines — the long lines, taking off your shoes and hauling your computer out of its case. That is, if you’re willing to pay and hand over a lot of personal information.
The Transportation Security Administration announced last week that, starting this fall, it will be testing a “trusted traveler” program that will offer special security lines for travelers willing to undergo a background check and pay for the privilege. Those travelers won’t have to remove their shoes or take computers out of their cases, and won’t routinely face a body scanner.
The pilot will be open to select frequent fliers on Delta in Atlanta and Detroit and on American Airlines in Miami and Dallas, as well as some people in those locations who already participate in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler programs. Eligible travelers will be invited to join in coming weeks. The TSA plans to expand the program to include more airports and airlines but has not said how long that will take to implement.
Although the TSA has yet to disclose details on pricing, its trusted traveler program isn’t likely to be a good value for anyone but frequent travelers, says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. (As a benchmark, private program Clear, available in Orlando and Denver, charges $179 per year for access to secure-traveler lines.) “There are other ways of beating the lines that can be cheaper,” he says. Elite frequent fliers and first- and business-class passengers on most airlines already get access to separate lines at select airports, and United offers it at 26 airports as an add-on option for as little as $9. There’s also the free, if less scrupulous, way: “Show your boarding pass to the TSA agent and say, ‘My flight is leaving in 10 minutes,’” Hobica says. “They’ll escort you to the front of the line.”
But even frequent travelers may not find as much value in the TSA program or other paid options. The TSA only controls the screening process, while the airlines control the lines leading up to it, Hobica says. That means special lines could be pulled temporarily if the airline thinks it can get more people through, faster, by using that extra screening station, or during off hours lines are generally short and not many stations are manned. The TSA has said that trusted travelers wouldn’t be exempt from random screenings, and this spring said expedited screening might not be available on higher-risk flights or if one of the 460,000 watch list passengers is on the same flight.
Pay Dirt readers, would you pay to get through security faster?