Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Turbulence for the Registered Traveler Program

As of June 22, 2009, the largest participant in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s Registered Traveler program has ceased operations. To some, this news will be shocking (especially anyone who recently invested $199 in an annual memberhip). But in truth, the program has never made any sense.

Registered Traveler was created by the Bush Administration to provide a way for a private company to re-insert itself into a newly-federalized airport screening process. But because no one wanted to risk profiling, missing someone, or exempting the wealthy, Registered Traveler--which was always intended to have a monetary cost--could not replace the too-familiar process of shoe, belt, and laptop removal that we all experience whenever we fly.

As a result, TSA's program requires Registered Travelers to be fingerprinted, undergo background checks, and have their iris images scanned. But having gone through the process and obtained valid cards, Clear members still go through regular security screening. The only time savings is that they go to the front of the line--if, and only if, the airport from which they are traveling actually has a Clear lane, and at its height, Clear had operations at just 18 airports.

Now, I think that an expediting screening program for frequent travelers is a great idea. What isn't a great idea is making companies compete in this space, because what they're doing (i.e. meeting standards for security) is dictated by the government and falls under government jurisdiction. A single contractor, chosen competitively to operate Registered Traveler on behalf of the TSA, could have pulled this off much better.

Clear competitor FLO Card continues to operate for the time being. But unless and until the model changes, the rationale behind anyone operating a Registered Traveler program or signing up for one is, well, unclear.

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