D.C. Airport Pass Speeds Travelers Clear to the Gate

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Washington area travelers will soon be able to speed more quickly through airport security if they are willing to pay a fee, provide personal information to the government and allow their fingerprints and eyes to be scanned at checkpoints.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles International airports, awarded a contract yesterday to a company that operates the federal government's security program, which is known as Registered Traveler.

The initiative should start in the spring, said representatives of the company, Verified Identity Pass of New York. The company operates registered traveler programs at 11 airports nationwide, chief executive Steve Brill said.

Registered traveler is operated by two other companies at two other airports.

The Transportation Security Administration said about 65,000 people participate in the registered traveler program.

Brill said the company was excited to enter the market, adding that 2,000 people in the Washington area have already signed up to join the company's program called Clear. Participation costs $128 a year, including a fee for a government background check.

"We wanted this for a long time for a variety of reasons," Brill said. "What we really offer people is a predictable, less of a hassle, experience through airport security."

The airports' board of directors weighed bids from Verified and another company, FLO Corp., said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the airports.

The airport authority will receive a $500,000 minimum total annual payment from Verified to operate at the airports, Hamilton said.

The Registered Traveler program has struggled to get off the ground. The TSA resisted its implementation. Airlines have opposed the effort because they worry it siphons security from other checkpoint lanes. They also say it diminishes the value of shorter security lines they provide for premium passengers.

"There is no discernable security benefit," said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents major U.S. airlines. "It takes resources from TSA that otherwise could be used to deal with threats to aviation safety. Much of what Registered Traveler provides, our carriers already provide to their frequent fliers and first class travelers."

To join Registered Traveler, a passenger must sign up at Clear's Web site ( http://www.flyclear.com) and fill out personal information.

Within a few days, travelers then visit a Clear center so the company can check identification and take an image of their fingerprints and eyes, the company said. The information is then sent to the TSA for a background check.

Once enrolled in the program, passengers show up at the Clear lanes at the airport and have their fingerprints or eyes scanned to verify identities. They can generally expect much shorter security lines than other passengers, but like everyone else going through a checkpoint, they must put their bags through X-ray machines, take off their shoes and remove their laptop computers from their luggage.

Brill said he hopes he can persuade technology companies to develop devices that will eventually allow passengers to keep their shoes on and not remove their laptops from luggage. He recently offered a $500,000 prize to companies that develop technologies that substantially speed checkpoint times.

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