Editor's Note

Up, Up and Away

ORLANDO, Fla., is one of this country's great paradise escapes, and if you have children, there are a number of theme parks that attract the family, but also demand security. What Orlando has that other cities in the nation don't is the development of the Registered Traveler program, designed to strengthen aviation security and boost customer service.

I suppose there are skeptics, as there are with any government program. However, the voluntary market-driven initiative -- the brainchild of the Transportation Security Administration -- seems to be working quite well. Offered by the private sector, the Registered Traveler program still falls under TSA oversight.

People signed up for Registered Traveler are saving time and ultimately money on speeding through security lines at the Orlando International Airport.

In a conversation with Carolyn Fennell, public affairs specialist at Orlando's airport, the program that started July 15 a year ago has now signed up nearly 20,000 people, including some out of towners who frequent Orlando often, traveling through Florida's busiest airport on business. The pilot program is only active in Orlando, and it makes a great use of up-to-date technology.

Why Orlando? For starters, there are more than 34 million passengers that wend their way through Orlando International. And, as Fennell put it, airport officials have noted that results have been positive in implementing the program. In fact, Orlando locals have been heard to say, "I've got my clear card."

Here's how it all works. A person can enroll on their own computer or at one of the ClearSpace enrollment stations at the airport. Enrollees will need two pieces of identification. At this point, the person making an enrollment chooses what biometric identification they want to use, be it finger scan or an iris scan. This takes about 15 minutes.

Once the first two steps are completed, the biographic information is sent to the Transportation Security Administration for a security threat assessment. Approval takes about two weeks before receiving your ClearCard.

What's the advantage of having a ClearCard?

If you've been to the Orlando International Airport, you already know how long the lines are. A ClearCard will speed you through the line by matching your card with your biometrics. Fennell said it takes about 4 seconds to process the ClearCard at the airport.

She also said Orlandoans save up to 30 minutes in time required to arrive at the airport. That's important to any businessperson who is constantly trying to meet and beat deadlines. As far as a free pass to the head of the line?that doesn't happen. But according to Verified ID Pass spokesperson Cindy Rosenthal, a registered traveler will move forward to a designated table -- complete with concierge -- where your bags are checked, your boarding pass will be stamped, and you get to bypass screening. If the bells and whistles sound, you will get a face-to-face experience with a trained screener, but otherwise, it's a pretty slick procedure.

Here's how the ClearCard works. First of all, it's a smart card. It has templates embedded within, which hold images of all 10 fingerprints and both iris scans. The person to whom the card has been issued then chooses which biometric they will use for future verification.

There's more to come, according to Rosenthal. Verified ID Pass has been testing equipment that will scan for explosives in shoes and a trace detection unit for explosives in a jacket or sweater. Imagine no more taking off shoes or jackets. Other airports are already in the running for registered travelers, including San Jose Norman Mineta International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. All three airports have provided TSA with information and have submitted letters for recommendation to begin the ClearCard program. It is expected to be up and running this summer. Rosenthal also said Los Angeles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport have expressed interest in the program.

ClearCard seems to have gotten the stamp of approval from everyone. Rosenthal said they've not received any complaints and Fennell hasn't received any negative feedback in Orlando. If anything, getting the program up and running nationwide is taking too long, but there is some comfort in having a pilot program to work out all the kinks. No doubt that this program is coming to major airports nationwide in the near future.

The program isn't free. Nothing from the government is gratis, so be prepared to fork over $79.99, and for the time being, remember that the only airport using this system is in Orlando. However, the program has been tagged with a mandatory interoperability among airport locations, an open technological platform that facilitates competition, a central information management system and, best of all, robust safeguards to protect personal privacy. Registered Traveler also is mandated to offer substantive benefits linked to enhanced checkpoint screening measures.

In April, TSA announced that the pilot program will now include between 10 to 20 airports, where an evaluation of the impact of alternate checkpoint processes will take place on screening and wait times before nationwide implementation.

Registered Traveler seems like a much needed program in light of the fact that air travel is booming, aircraft are full of passengers and first and foremost in everyone's mind is arriving on time and in one piece. For frequent travelers, this provides a legitimate avenue to speed through check-in lines while having a few more minutes to finish business.


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