Speeding travelers through security

Times Staff Writer

Later this month, Delta Air Lines customers will be able to avoid long security lines at Los Angeles International Airport by enrolling in a national program that provides priority lanes in passenger terminals.

In the first operation of its type at LAX, the Clear fast-pass system -- using fingerprint and eye scanners -- is designed to identify travelers and get them through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in a matter of minutes.

“Just to know you can get to the airport at a decent time, go through security and make your flight is something you can’t put a value on,” said Bryan Martinez, 37, of Thousand Oaks, a marketing executive for Amgen Inc. who has used the Clear system for several years at other airports.


Martinez, who flies frequently on business, said that if he is not checking a bag, he can arrive at the airport 20 to 25 minutes before departure and still make his flights.

“You can’t do this at LAX right now,” he said.

Clear, a subsidiary of Verified Identity Pass Inc. in New York, plans to open a priority lane for Delta passengers in Terminal 5 the last week of July.

In about two weeks, travelers will be able to enroll in the program at a Clear station in the Delta terminal. The annual fee is $128.

Today, regular passengers using Terminal 5 wait an average of five to 10 minutes to get through federal screening. But TSA figures show that they can spend as much as 30 minutes waiting on busy days. Other airports may have longer waiting periods.

After qualifying for the service, Clear executives say, members can pass through airport security checkpoints faster and more conveniently than other travelers.

“What we offer people is predictability at a time when so much about the travel experience is unpredictable,” said Steven Brill, Clear’s chief executive. “This process only takes about five minutes. That is a big deal for many travelers.”

Clear has priority lanes in 18 airports across the country and plans to be in 25 airports by the end of the year.

About 185,000 people are now members. The vast majority are business travelers and frequent fliers.

Applicants for the Clear system are screened by the TSA, which checks names against criminal records and terrorist watch lists.

The agency, which is responsible for the federal registered traveler program, receives $28 from Clear per application.

After check-in at the airport, members enter a separate security lane, where attendants check their identification, membership cards and boarding passes.

Travelers then walk to a kiosk where they insert their membership cards, place a finger on a reader or look into a camera that checks their irises.

Once identity is confirmed, an attendant guides the traveler through the usual screening ahead of others in line.

“Travel is so stressful,” Martinez said. “Anything you can do to take some of the stress out is worth it.”

Fast-tracking passengers through security by private companies has not been without controversy. Among the critics is the Air Transport Assn., a trade organization that represents the airlines, including Delta.

There have been concerns that companies providing priority lanes have not always delivered on their promises.

Critics also have contended that TSA resources were being diverted to a privileged few and that the lanes might not make much difference at airports where average waits for security checks are not that long.

“We believe that putting money into something that benefits all travelers makes more sense,” said Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Assn. “Creating space for these lanes at airports for a few passengers is not a good use of resources.”

Some of the concerns have evaporated over the last three years as vendors gained experience and solved some of the problems that first hampered the service.

Because all passengers go through the same screening at security checkpoints, TSA officials say there has not been any diversion of federal officers to the privately run priority lanes.

“These operations have presented no problems for TSA so far, and there has been no impact on our security,” said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for TSA in Los Angeles.

Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines Inc., said the Clear system has been received well at other airports, especially by frequent travelers.

“This service offers our customers a pleasant and hassle-free travel experience from check-in through security to getting to the aircraft,” Black said. “The feedback from our testing has been positive.”