AT MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT last month, a man, apparently frustrated by a prolonged security check, was charged with indecent exposure after dropping his pants in protest as a screener waved a metal-detecting wand over the man's legs.
At the same airport a week earlier, Amy Tourand, a corporate travel director for Carlson Marketing Co. of Minneapolis, breezed through a security line that had just one passenger — herself.
Tourand is one of more than 2,000 people who are taking advantage of an offer from Northwest Airlines to take part in the Registered Traveler's Pilot Program in Minneapolis, launched in early July by the Transportation Security Administration.
“I go through the Minneapolis airport four times a month. … I feel like I spend the majority of my life in the airport,” says Tourand, a Northwest platinum elite frequent flyer. “The more time I can spend at home makes this [the Registered Traveler's program] completely worth it for me.”
Here's how it works: Volunteers for the program provide the TSA with personal information, including name, address, phone number, and date of birth, as well as biometric data such as a fingerprint and an iris scan. If thepasses a security assessment, he or she is able to register with the program, which, along with Minneapolis, is being set up at Los Angeles International Airport, Boston's Logan International Airport, Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and George Bush International in Houston.
Travelers in the program are then able to go through an expedited screening process at specially designed lanes in their home airports. The program was launched in Minneapolis and will be rolled out in the other participating airports during the summer.
In a statement, retired Rear Adm. David Stone, TSA acting administrator, said, “TSA is on the cutting edge of new security technology. We expect this program to provide frequent travelers with a high level of security and an expedited screening experience.”
“Travel security is national security,” says Carol Devine, president of the National Business Travel Association, which has been lobbying for a registered travelers' program for several years. “It's important when we're talking about a business traveler or someone in the meetings and incentives industry.”
The program should reduce the amount of time spent in security lines, Devine says. “They [registered travelers] shouldn't have to stop for secondary screening, and they should be going into lines with experienced travelers who know what it takes to get through security quickly.”
Joan Eisenstodt, president of Eisenstodt Associates, a conference management and consulting firm in Washington, D.C., is one frequent traveler who wonders if the program will really accomplish anything. “It's fine in theory,” she says, but she questions the effectiveness of a program that only includes 2,000 participants at each airport. “Is it to appease the frequent traveler, or does it really add anything to make the flying public safer?” she asks. And what happens to a frequent traveler who applies for the program and is rejected?
Once the pilot program is complete (it will last 90 days at each airport), the TSA will evaluate the results and decide whether to implement it on a broader level.