If you are a frequent user of airports, you have probably experienced the same struggle every time you go through several airport security and customs lines. Basic procedures have more or less remained the same even after 9/11: checked baggage and carry-on bags going through X-ray machines, and you go through security scans and ID checks, while removing metallic objects from your body. Magnetometers and even maybe a pat down, limits to carry-on luggage, and taking off your shoes were added right after 9/11.
Many passengers have complained to government agencies, airlines, and airport authorities about the sometimes unnecessary and exaggerated security checks at some airports. Although the general public sees these procedures as necessities, frequent business travelers have requested a lessening of the hassle of undergoing airport security and customs checks upon returning from trips abroad. In line with this, concerned agencies have started to work on ways to make air travel more efficient without compromising security.
There are two main programs that can assist passengers when they are at the airport. One is for security checks and the other is for customs procedures that they undergo upon arrival from other countries. Basically, a passenger should undergo an investigation process, pay the necessary fees, and use airports with these programs.
Registered Traveler Program
The program is primarily designed to hasten the airport security and customs checks processes at domestic airports. The Transport Security Administration (TSA) screens you carefully; once you pass, you can bypass a few of the security procedures at the airport. However, these airports should have these facilities installed so that you can make use of your registration.
Private companies have implemented this program with the permission of the TSA. You can register online, where you provide personal information. You then visit an enrollment center where you undergo information verification. Fingerprinting, iris scan, and photographs are part of the process. All of these bits of information are then encoded onto an ID card and undergo background screening by the TSA, and is then compiled into a master database.
You can use this card to avoid long airport security and customs lines when checking in. You just need to verify your identity with a fingerprint and/or iris scan. Once confirmed, you pass through a designated registered traveler line. You still go through X-ray and magnetometer procedures. The main advantage is that you avoid the long lines of the usual security checks.
Two companies have already started issuing cards for the program. Verified Identity Pass has a Clear card system while FLO Corporation has a FLOcard. A list of the current cost of the cards and airports they serve can be viewed on their Web sites. More companies have already expressed interest in implementing the same system.
Global Entry Program (GOES)
For travelers coming to the US from other countries, the US Customs and Border Protection has managed a new pilot program called Global Entry to accelerate the process of giving clearances to passengers. Just like the Registered Traveler Program, participants utilize automated kiosks that perform a faster, hopefully shorter, process that travelers usually undergo in the customs and immigration departments. This program is limited to US citizens, permanent legal residents, and citizens of a few other countries.
You need to undergo almost the same process as the previous program: online enrollment, verification at an enrollment center, an interview, biometric scans, picture taking, and the like. You then receive a “Smart” ID card that you use in airports to skip the long airport security and custom lines once you arrive. Currently, this program is available at selected airports, and is expected to expand in the future.
Concerns About Privacy
Most of us would think that the downside to these two programs is the loss of privacy, since all of the information taken is stored in a government database. This is mostly a matter of personal decision. If you are a frequent traveler for business or pleasure, why not give it a go? Unless you do, you will never experience for yourself the benefits of bypassing airport security and customs lines.