Last week, USA Today offered an editorial asking “Would you depend on ‘trusted traveler’?” In a perfect world, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would oversee a true registered traveler program that would have travelers pay and submit biometric information in exchange for a much quicker airport security checkpoint experience.
There was a small pilot that was tested in the aftermath of 9/11, but not much came of it. I began covering the second iteration of this program about a year after a pilot program was introduced at Orlando International Airport in 2005. At its peak, the domestic program had three providers, with Clear being the largest by far.
The problem was that original Clear was never able to deliver what it promised — a separate line with scanners that would allow travelers to keep their shoes and coats on and their laptops in their bags. Toward the end, TSA insisted that RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.
Why couldn’t Clear and the other providers offer a true experience? Because despite Congressional support for RT, the program has never been a priority for TSA. The agency ended a two-year, 19-airport pilot program back in July 2008. It also stopped doing the background checks on potential new RT members, referring all questions to the private companies operating the program.
TSA has said repeatedly that RT is not a priority. Instead, it wants to focus on technology and training that offers layers of security. And as the USA Today editorial noted: “Quick database checks, which cost about $50, are not enough to guarantee security. Recall the Times Square bomber: a naturalized U.S. citizen who had a job and lived in suburban Connecticut. It’s very unlikely that a background check would have picked him out.”
The original Clear shutdown abruptly in June 2009 after investors pulled the plug. That, in turn, caused the other two RT providers to suspend their programs. We have seen a new company — Alclear — buy the assets of Clear and restart the program. We’ve also seen iQueue jump into the fray. But at this point, both programs are more VIP customer lines rather than a true trusted traveler program. So don’t hold your breath waiting for a real RT program to come along anytime soon.