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ID's That Fly -Trusted Traveler Card Closer To Taking Off

(September 30, 2002)

Detroit frequent flyer Bob Jones is sick of airport security. Several times a month he endures long lines and obligatory searches. It's to the point where he has cut way back on his business travels. Flyers like Bob aren't alone, and the airlines know it. That's why airlines are pushing the government to go ahead with the "Trusted Traveler Card" program.

Who Are Trusted Travelers

The "Trusted Traveler Card" concept was proposed last February before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This idea calls for the creation of a voluntary passenger I.D. card that would enable frequent travelers to supply instant background checks in exchange for taking a shorter, faster moving line through airport security. The card (with an embedded microchip) could store the biometric information to verify the cardholder's ID and almost anything else the government wants to know.

Airport Aversion

Because of the hassle of airport security lines many business travelers have been cutting back or are seeking alternative transportation to do business. This has further placed an already ailing airline industry into turmoil. The Air Transport Association (ATA), the major airlines' coalition, estimates airport security hassles will cost airlines $3.8 billion in revenue this year. Some industry observers think that's a "conservative" estimate.

With the aforementioned losses it's no wonder airline executives yearn for such a program. Most airline representatives cite the need for more balance between security and passenger convenience. "We're all for expediting a pleasant faster experience for the traveler while at the same time addressing security concerns", says Ed Stewart, Southwest Airlines spokesperson. Indeed, many airline managers believe the "trusted traveler" card may be just the ticket to take the hassle out of the flying experience for frequent travelers and stimulate much needed business.

Feds Debate The System

Until recently, it looked as though the "trusted traveler" concept had all but died. This was mainly due to the lack of support from former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head John Magaw, who was hostile towards this type of security innovation. Magaw, a former Secret Service Director, would not back the program citing that a "trusted traveler" card would not protect against "sleepers"-persons, who blend into society, maybe become citizens, acquire the trusted traveler ID card, and then commit terrorist acts. Even with the use of tamperproof cards carrying biometric information, Magaw remained skeptical.

Still, the program has a big ally in Homeland Security Director, Governor Tom Ridge. "Director Ridge has been a strong proponent of the "trusted traveler" program", says Michael Wascom, spokesman for the ATA. He adds, "While former TSA director Magaw wanted to concentrate and appropriate most resources for baggage screening we feel it's more important to focus on the people. September 11 wasn't about luggage it was about people and we need to focus our resources on people or we're missing the boat." Wascom noted that Director Ridge and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta have asked for ATA's assistance in formulating one concept that would work for all carriers. With Magaw's recent departure the program appears to be finally heading for a test program slated to start with TSA employees. If the test program proves to be successful it would move into the civilian world with airline employees and later the flying public.

As for frequent flyer Bob Jones, well, he's already contacted Michigan's two senators and congressional delegation in support of the "Trusted Traveler" program. He says, "It's time to be proactive and not wait any longer."

Related Links:

Office of Homeland Security

Air Transport Association

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