Velotta: Las Vegas could benefit from TSA trusted traveler program

A trusted traveler program is an idea that should really fly.

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

VEGAS INC Coverage

We’ve all done our fair share of complaining about the hassles we encounter at those airport security checkpoints overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. But how many people would be willing to enroll in—and pay for—a trusted traveler program that offers less screening at major US airports for any American citizen who pays an annual enrollment fee of $100 to $150 and undergoes a criminal-background check?

A recent study by Equation Research for the U.S. Travel Association quantifies what many in the industry have suspected all along: The more frequently you fly, the more willing you’d be to pay for a trusted traveler program. Nowhere would a trusted traveler program be more beneficial than Las Vegas, where McCarran International consistently is the second busiest “origination and destination” airport in the country, meaning that most of its passengers arrive here or take off from here rather than catch connecting flights.

But maybe the best news, association Executive Vice President Geoff Freeman says, is that most travelers would benefit even if they don’t enroll.

“It’s one of those rare situations where you can say that this would be a win-win-win situation,” Freeman says.

He reasons that it’s a win for those who enroll because they’ll move faster through the process, probably in dedicated lines. With trusted travelers no longer in main lines, there would be fewer people to process, shortening that wait. The final win, he says, would be for the TSA because it would have more information on trusted travelers and could focus its limited resources on keeping the wrong people off planes.

The Equation Research study was conducted online in 1,007 ten-minute interviews from May 12-17. Survey invitations were sent nationally to a representative group of US consumers 18 and older. The survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. The study showed that among all travelers, 45 percent would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to enroll. But among frequent leisure travelers, defined as those who take more than five trips a year, the percentage rises to 61 percent. Among frequent business travelers who also take more than five trips a year, the percentage is 75 percent.

Clearly, the more you fly, the more the process bothers you, and business travelers are most likely to fork over $100 to $150 a year, probably because they know their companies would pay for it.

“I think one of the big things that we’ve learned is that the security process is not a one-size-fits-all experience,” Freeman says.

The US Travel Association is working with TSA Administrator John Pistole to consider details of how a trusted traveler program would work while lobbying Congress and the Obama administration to keep the proposal on track.

“We’re excited to work with the TSA on this,” Freeman says. “It’s a major accomplishment to get the wheels turning.”

Freeman says the main components of the system would be the investigatory process on applicants and a means of positively identifying enrollees when they arrive at the security checkpoint. That could mean the installation of fingerprint or iris scanners or some other biometric identification technology at the airport.

But why have trusted travelers go through the process every year? Freeman admits that could be something worked out in details. I’d think most people interested in such a program would be trustworthy enough that there would be no need for additional investigations every year.

A separate study commissioned by the Travel Association in December found that survey respondents said they would be willing to take two or three more trips a year if the hassles of checkpoint security could be reduced without compromising security. The association says those additional trips would result in an additional $84.6 billion in travel spending and support 880,000 jobs.

Tourism hubs such as Las Vegas, Orlando and New York would be the biggest beneficiaries.

It seems like a no-brainer to push ahead on something that would relieve our collective aggravation at the airport, create jobs in a city that really needs them and is paid for by travelers who would benefit.

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  1. This would be a great program. At one time, there were two competing programs for which an annual "line pass" could be purchased for a $100 annual fee, putting the "trusted traveler" at the front of the TSA line at participating airports, including Reno, though receiving normal screening. Unfortunately, McCarran officials stupidly opted not to participate in those programs. Let's hope that if a program as described in the article comes to fruition, our local airport officials will be smarter this time.