In a post-9/11 world getting through airport lines was a hassle. Removing shoes, laptops, coats all took time and often lead to lengthy lines.
One solution was to set up a service where individuals would pay a fee, provide information, undergo a background check and receive expedited processing through those security lines. The idea was popular, especially in Congress which held hearings on the programs that came to be known as registered traveler.
After undergoing background checks, travelers were issued smart cards that contained fingerprint and iris biometrics. These cards were used to verify identity before being allowed past security.
The leading company to emerge for registered traveler programs was Verified Identity Pass, or Clear. The company had security lanes at some 20 airports and around 250,000 customers.
But in late June Verified Identity Pass, or Clear, died, leaving behind … well nothing really. And it wasn’t issuing refunds.
Cause of death, sources say, was greed. When Clear pitched its program the company guarantee that the airport would receive a flat fee every year as well as a percentage of the membership fees from travelers enrolled. This made it difficult for others to compete in the space because they wouldn’t offer the minimum annual guarantee.
Airports should have looked at the program as something to benefit travelers and not as a revenue item, says one source. “The operators and airports saw this as a revenue stream where they should have seen it as something else,” says a source.
But some say the program may rise from the ashes. “It’s going to depend airport by airport,” says Carter Morris, senior vice president of transportation security policy at the American Association of Airport Executives. “Clear was the biggest provider but registered traveler isn’t dead.”
While Clear ran the majority of the airport gates two other providers also offered registered traveler services. Vigilant Solutions was reportedly still operating in Jacksonville, Fla. and Louisville, Ky. FLO Corp. also had cards issued but the status of the company was not known at press time.
Each of the airports that had registered traveler lanes in place will have to determine its next step, Morris says. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the program evolves from here.”
Officials at Orlando International Airport, the first to deploy Clear, already made a decision what to do with the lanes in place there, says a spokesperson at the airport. Less than a week after shutting down, the Transportation Security Administration had expanded its Black Diamond lanes in the space once occupied by the Clear program. The kiosks and systems that were once in place have been dismantled, the spokesperson says.
The Black Diamond program has different lanes depending on a travelers proficiency getting through security, for example, Black Diamond is for the experience traveler while the family lane is for less experienced travelers with small children.
Bryan Ichikawa, vice president of the Identity Solutions Group at Unisys, doesn’t see anyone stepping in to take over the abandoned lanes. The cost to run the program is just too great. “They issue a high-assurance credential and just to maintain the security wrapper and the annual audit that’s necessary is a huge expense,” he says. Maintaining the backend system and staffing costs also contributed to Clear’s demise, he adds. Unisys was the contractor for some of the first registered traveler pilots the TSA conducted in 2004.
And with some airlines offering expedited travel lanes at airports and the TSA’s Black Diamond program there is less of a need for this type of program, Ichikawa says. “The TSA has done a good job managing its lanes,” he says.
Also, the security element of registered traveler isn’t there anymore, Ichikawa says. A year ago the TSA stopped requiring background checks for participants of the registered traveler program. “It’s a great program,” he says. “But it’s a cut to the front of the line program.”
The long term future of the program is unknown. The TSA did not return calls requesting comment.