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Groups urge faster security checkpoints for frequent fliers

Also: The TSA gets flak for how it treated travelers in 2010, and its mobile app answers travelers' questions.

January 02, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

As lines in the nation's airports grow longer with newly enhanced security measures, many travel groups suggest that the best way to speed passengers through would be to create separate, faster checkpoints for frequent fliers, including business travelers.

It's an idea promoted by the International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for the global airline industry, and the National Business Travel Assn., the trade group for the U.S. business travel industry.

Under the proposal, frequent travelers who submit background information prior to arriving at the airport can bypass the full-body scanners and pat-down searches. Instead, the frequent travelers undergo a quicker, less invasive security procedure.

In a meeting last month with Transportation Security Administration leader John Pistole, leaders of the National Business Travel Assn. pressed the idea as a way to make the screening process more efficient.

In a recent survey, 71% of the association's members said they would be willing to pay to undergo a one-time in-depth security check to qualify for the faster security screening.

Mike McCormick, the association's executive director, called the talk with Pistole productive.

"We plan to continue our dialogue with TSA over the months to come so we can work together to ensure the proper systems are in place to enhance security while minimizing challenges for the business traveler," he said in a statement.

Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman, said Pistole met with the group because he believes in considering all ideas. But he noted that the TSA tested the idea of separate security lines several years ago in pilot program called Registered Traveler.

After the pilot program ended, several private companies attempted to continue it in cooperation with the TSA, but those firms couldn't expand the program to enough airports to make a profit and ended the ventures. New York-based Alclear has since tried to relaunch the public-private effort but has done so at only two airports.

Said Melendez: "We take ideas and implement what we can. But the most important thing for us is security."

• The worst-service award goes to …

While the TSA is focused on security, many travelers are not delighted by its customer service.

That was clear from a recent online survey by the Consumer Travel Alliance, a Washington nonprofit group that represents travel consumers.

Asked to pick the travel company or government agency that gave them the worst service in 2010, nearly half of the 544 people surveyed pointed at the TSA.

The airline industry came in second, with 29% of those polled saying airlines treated travelers the worst. Car rental companies came in third with 10%, and hotels in fourth place with 5%, according to the survey of visitors to the group's website and the site of consumer advocate Christopher Elliott.

Charlie Leocha, head of the alliance, was surprised by the gap the survey showed between the TSA and the airlines. But people's opinions could change. "Everything is a snapshot in time," Leocha said.

• TSA mobile app answers questions

In a bid to make the airport security process a little easier, the TSA has created a mobile application to answer travelers' questions about the screening procedure.

Although travelers can choose from thousands of apps to kill time while waiting in an airport line, the My TSA app is meant to move the lines faster.

For example, the app includes a feature that lets travelers type in the name of an item to find out whether the TSA allows it on the plane. (Cake? Yes. Homemade jam? Yes, but it's subject to the rules for liquids and gels.)

Another feature lets passengers report the time it takes them to get through the security lines — information that is then shared with other users of the app.

The app is available free on Apple Inc.'s iTunes. It has received mixed reviews.

One reviewer on iTunes said it was not surprising that few travelers had posted how long they waited in security lines: "Think about it. You have all your stuff to deal with, going through security. You have to practically undress to go through. You have to re-dress, gather your stuff, and get to your gate. How many people will take the time to report their wait times?"

Many of the features are also available at the TSA mobile site, http://www.tsa.gov/mobile.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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