Pilot program to speed security checks for some air travelers

Federal authorities plan to launch a pilot program at four U.S. airports this year that will allow pre-qualified passengers to pass through security checkpoints more swiftly, the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday.

Though the anticipated time-savers were not revealed, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole has said that requirements for removing shoes or taking laptop computers from their cases might be eliminated for certain groups of passengers.

Pistole said Thursday that Delta and American Airlines would participate in the pilot program. It would allow U.S. citizens who are members of the airlines’ frequent-flier clubs to provide advance personal information that would be screened by the TSA. If fliers were deemed qualified, they could pass through the “expedited” process at security checkpoints.

Initially the program would be limited to Delta passengers boarding planes in Atlanta and Detroit, and American passengers boarding in Miami and Dallas. Some passengers already certified under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs also would be eligible if they were flying on Delta and American from those airports.

Pistole said speeding the travel of no-risk passengers would allow TSA to focus more attention on the balance of passengers.

“These improvements will enable our officers to focus their efforts on higher-risk areas,” Pistole said. “Enhancing identity-based screening is another common-sense step in the right direction as we continue to strengthen overall security and improve the passenger experience whenever possible.”

TSA plans to expand this pilot program to include United Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, US Airways, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, as well as additional airports, once operationally ready, officials said.

In briefing the airlines on the plan, Pistole said TSA will continue to use random and unpredictable security measures and no traveler who qualified for expedited clearance would be guaranteed that experience on every occasion.

The program falls short of a proposal advanced this year by the U.S. Travel Association, which urged creation of a more broad-based, voluntary trusted-traveler approach; passengers could enroll by providing fingerprints, credit information, tax returns and other personal data to verify that they pose little or no risk.

Under that proposal, a flier would enter a kiosk where either fingerprint or iris scanning technology would be used to confirm their identity. Both the passenger and carry-on bags would pass through an explosives-detection device, but there would be no requirement to remove shoes, coats or hats.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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