Life on the fast lane

It’s been a tremendous challenge for airports in the U.S. and around the world: How can they measure up to new standards in traveler screening and security, without creating delays – and escalating passenger dissatisfaction? Fortunately, technology is stepping in.

There are several high-tech methods for ensuring that passengers are who they say they are and that they are not carrying any prohibited items in their baggage or on their person. Through the Registered Traveler program in the U.S., you can get a first glimpse of many of these new advances in action.

Security gets stronger
In the wake of 9/11 and additional serious incidents regarding flight security breaches since then, the traveler screening process has become more and more arduous. From computerized passenger prescreening; to time-consuming and unsanitary shoe removal; to the dreaded “one quart bag” system for taking fluids onboard planes, getting to the gate on time just keeps getting tougher.

It soon became apparent that developing an alternate security system for frequent business flyers – who make up a large percentage of domestic flights and are also the most valued customers for airlines – might help solve many problems. Accordingly, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has created the Registered Traveler program. Private companies who can meet this series of security standards can then bid to open special security gates at airports around the country.

A traveler registered by any vendor can then breeze through any of the gates.

Business-class protection 
Of course, becoming a registered traveler is anything but a breeze, since companies must be sure that members are not security risks – and are who they say they are.

Fly Clear (, the first active Registered Traveler program, includes the following security measures:
• First, all applicants to the program must undergo a background check.
• They must then have a fingerprint and the iris of one eye scanned.
• This information is then encoded onto a smartcard ID, so security personnel can be confident that each ID can only be used by the right person.

Overall, the process is expected to take two weeks; but once members receive their Clear pass, they can expect to cruise through airport lines in minutes – or less.

First, travelers must insert their smartcards into a reader; then, they pause while a scanner reads either their fingerprint or their iris (the colored ring around the pupil of the eye).

This biometric security approach offers significant protection over a mere photo ID, particularly when iris scanning is used. The iris is completely unique, does not change after the age of 1, and is less prone to false positive or negative readings than fingerprints.

For an additional layer of security, at some airports travelers must then place their finger in another scanner – called Trace – which checks for residue from explosives.

No shoes, great service
The biggest time savings, however, occurs during the next steps: First, travelers put their carry-ons into a special baggage scanner that uses a technology similar to medical CT scans to search for weapons – creating a more detailed picture that eliminates the need to remove laptops from their cases. For the time being, liquids will probably still have to be placed on top in their quart-sized bags.

Travelers then step into a booth equipped with millimeter wave technology. It uses the highest possible radio frequency band to scan through clothes, so jackets and coats stay on. Finally, a shoe scanner uses the same magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology used in hospitals to quickly check for explosives – and let travelers speed to the gate, without disrobing or exposing the contents of their baggage to the world.

Indeed, representatives from General Electric – which manufactures several components of this system, including Trace – estimate that all the checks could take as little as 30 seconds to complete.

Of course, all of this space-age technology doesn’t come cheap. Clear currently charges members 99 dollars per year to use its Registered Traveler service, and the company currently only operates gates at five airports: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Orlando, San Jose and New York JFK (Terminal 7 only).

However, additional locations are coming online soon. And given the greater level of security these systems add for all travelers, one can only hope that within a few years, they’ll become cost-effective enough to be used by everyone.

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