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TRAVEL BRIEFCASE

Program to speed fliers through airport security falters

All three of the companies approved by the Transportation Security Administration to offer pre-screening services to frequent travelers have folded or suspended operations.

August 01, 2009|Hugo Martin

Because of the stepped-up security after the 2001 terrorist attacks, several private companies collaborated with the federal government to offer pre-screening services so frequent travelers could speed through the airport.

But in the last few months, all three of the major companies approved by the Transportation Security Administration to participate in the registered traveler program have folded or suspended operations.

Thousands of customers paid as much as $200 a year to have the private vendors take fingerprints and iris scans and perform security background checks. Customers who cleared the security checks got an identification card that lets them bypass the regular airport security checks. But some customers didn't even get to use the ID cards before the firms folded.

The biggest of the companies, Verified Identity Pass Inc., operated in 18 of the 21 airports that participated in the program until it closed in late June, prompting lawsuits from some customers. The company said in a website posting that it couldn't negotiate an agreement with creditors, but industry insiders blame the failure on poor management.

Once Verified Identity Pass went under, its smaller competitors, Vigilant Solutions and Flo Corp., shut down too.

The National Business Travel Assn., a longtime supporter of the registered traveler program, sent letters this month to the 21 airports, urging them to relaunch the program with Flo or other qualified firms.

"We believe this program allows for productive, safe travel and alleviates burdens that can hinder productivity while on the road," the association's president, Kevin Maguire, said in the letter.

Fred Fischer, managing director for Flo, said he was optimistic that the program could be revived at some of the country's larger airports, including Los Angeles International Airport. He predicted that the program could be running in two or three airports by the end of August.

"Flo anticipates a relaunch of the program," he said.

Delta brings back 'red coat' agents

The red coats are coming, the red coats are coming.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's largest commercial carrier, is in the midst of deploying 600 "red coat" customer service agents at major airports across the country.

The agents, trained as troubleshooters at the ticket counters, were the face of the airline from 1965 until the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005, when they were cut to save money.

But since Delta emerged from bankruptcy, the airline's customers have called for the return of the agents.

"We got a lot of feedback from customers that they missed them," said Carol Zupancic, Delta's managing director of airport customer service.

The agents will answer questions, give directions and even print boarding passes from hand-held ticketing devices, she said.

The rollout of the red coat army began in New York last summer. By June this year, agents were strolling the terminal in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Last month, 18 agents were added at Los Angeles International Airport. Other agents were scheduled to begin working today in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis.

JetAmerica never gets off ground

At least one airline discovered that bargain fares alone are not enough to stay in business during these times of economic gloom.

JetAmerica, a fledgling discount airline that drew headlines by offering $9 promotional fares, was grounded even before taking flight. The Clearwater, Fla., company suspended sales to all markets and will immediately begin offering refunds to customers.

JetAmerica was to begin July 13 offering flights to Toledo, Ohio; South Bend, Ind.; Melbourne, Fla.; and Lansing, Mich. Service to larger airports in Minneapolis and Newark, N.J., were also in the works.

But JetAmerica announced July 2 that it was having problems getting landing slots at Newark Liberty International Airport.

"We still strongly believe that there is an unmet need for affordable air service to secondary markets and we look forward to offering this option again in the near future," airline CEO John Weikle said in a statement posted on the company's website.

Long Beach has lowest airfares

Fans of Long Beach Airport, rejoice.

Among the 100 busiest airports in the nation, Long Beach ranked at the top for having the lowest average domestic airfares, according to a Bureau of Transportation Statistics report issued last week. The prices were based on numbers for the first quarter of 2009. The average ticket price was $207, including taxes. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank came in third in the ranking with an average price of $231. Long Beach also came in fourth for the biggest year-to-year average price decrease, a 16% drop.

The airport with the highest average ticket prices may be a surprise: Huntsville International Airport in Alabama, with average ticket prices of $505.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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