Jeff Jung, a TV producer and frequent traveler based in San Antonio, says that he wouldn’t consider the program successful unless all travelers — even infrequent air travelers who can’t afford to join — can see some benefit. But something is better than nothing, he says.
“The current situation is clearly unworkable and not pleasant for anyone who goes through the screening process,” he says. “So I applaud the TSA for trying to improve the situation. But everything hinges on how they implement it.”
While a successful trusted-traveler program could improve the screening experience, that’s not the only reason TSA is heading in that direction, according to Marc Frey, a former Department of Homeland Security official who now works for a Washington law firm. The TSA is running out of ways to check travelers, he says, so “implementing a screening system based on data provided by the traveler is the most efficient and effective alternative.”
In a sense, both its supporters and its detractors are right about the trusted-traveler program. Pre-screening passengers via a background check is a far more efficient approach. For some air travelers, and maybe someday for many, it could make air travel less of a hassle.
But at what price? Beyond a possible $100 application fee and perhaps a $150 annual cost, a trusted-traveler program would require other sacrifices. Giving up personal information and other biometric data is troubling to me, and to many air travelers it’s completely unacceptable. Getting a pre-flight fingerprint or iris scan is the kind of thing that would have inspired George Orwell to write another dystopian novel.
We already fund the TSA through taxes, a “9/11 Passenger Security Fee” and a ticket tax of $2.50 per flight. I’m troubled by a program that could cost participants another $100. Not only would it further divide the haves — the elite-level passengers who are already granted every amenity they desire — and the have-nots crammed into the steerage section, but it also sends a problematic message from the government to air travelers: If you want us to trust you, it’ll cost you extra.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at email@example.com