The Transportation Security Administration introduced a "registered traveler" system yesterday at Reagan National Airport, in which frequent fliers had their first chance to try out a new high-technology security system at the American Airlines checkpoint.
The program came in handy for Kevin McCurdy, a software salesman, who is one of 1,000 passengers who signed up for the 90-day test program.
McCurdy, 34, rushed to the new gray kiosks placed at the front of the security checkpoint, eager to make his flight. Instead of fishing his driver's license out of his wallet, McCurdy touched the screen, placed his forefinger on a digital scanner and then peered into a small mirror so that the machine could photograph his eye.
His only delay was when the machine told him to step back. Within five seconds, the machine had approved him. "Identification completed," said a computerized voice. Normally, the TSA would allow him to skip to the front of the security line. But no other passengers were waiting to get through security so McCurdy missed his chance for the special privilege.
National is one of five airports selected by the TSA to test new technologies that aim to make security lines more predictable. The test program at National invited several thousand members of American's elite frequent-flier program to volunteer for the registered traveler system. The program is not available to Washington area residents on any other airline at National, and it is not available to American Airlines passengers who were not invited.
Volunteers were earlier asked to sign up in person at the airport and provide a digital fingerprint, iris scan and personal information to the TSA. If they passed a background check, the agency notified them this week that they were eligible to use the new kiosks at the security gate. Aside from cutting in line, members get a special stamp on their boarding pass that excludes them from additional pat-downs and screening checks.
Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and TSA Administrator David M. Stone registered to become members.
The only glitch yesterday was that other passengers not invited into the program wanted to use the kiosks. As other travelers stood in relatively swift-moving security lines, the two iris-scanning and fingerprint-scanning kiosks stood idle. Contract employees assigned to help registered travelers use the new system spent much of their time directing confused travelers to the longer lines.
By the end of the day, 32 registered travelers had used the system, the agency said.
"We certainly expect that to pick up," said Amy Von Walter, a TSA spokeswoman. After Labor Day when Congress returns to town, she said, "we are eager to see business travelers and members of Congress join."