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Registered traveler test program at MSP could be extended
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The Transportation Security Administration calls the new "registered traveler" security checkpoint at MSP a success. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
The Transportation Security Adminsitration says its trial run of the "registered traveler" program is going so well it's considering extending the life of the project. The program allows some frequent flyers to bypass regular security checkpoints in their home airports by agreeing to background checks and identity verification through fingerprint and iris scans. The TSA launched the program at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in early July.

St. Paul, Minn. — There's rarely a wait at the new "registered traveler-only" checkpoint at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport. Northwest Airlines says on the busiest days upwards of 200 people make their way through the checkpoint.

...if this continues to be as successful as it has been to date we would want to absolutely extend it and keep it going.
- Justin Oberman, Transportation Safety Administration

Minneapolis businessman Pat Bassett, one of the first registered travelers to walk through the checkpoint the day it opened, says he's been through a few times the last couple of weeks and his travel is less stressful and less time consuming.

"You almost have your own private line and you can go right through the line very quickly and efficiently." Bassett says. "I think it's really actually pretty neat."

Bassett is one of roughly 2400 people who volunteered to become a "registered traveler," after Northwest Airlines invited him to take part.

In exchange, Bassett allowed the Transportation Security Administration to run a background check and take electronic scans of his fingerprints and irises.

Bassett doesn't even have to pull out his driver's license. A computer verifies he's the person who's name appears on the ticket by scanning Bassett's fingerprints and his eyes.

Bassett must still pass through a metal detector and his carry-on luggage has to be electronically scanned just like everyone else's. But in addition to having his own line, Bassett won't ever be pulled aside for a random search that other travelers are subject to.

Over the next six months the TSA will test the registered-traveler program at five airports using about 10,000 volunteer travelers.

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Image Minneapolis businessman Pat Bassett

The TSA's Director of Credentialing, Justin Oberman, says the program will be deemed a success if it improves customer service without jeopardizing security and demonstrates that biometrics -- the electronic fingerprint and iris scans -- can be used on a large-scale to verify identity.

"The technology appears to be working extremely well," Oberman says. "I think our intention is if this continues to be as successful as it has been to date we would want to absolutely extend it and keep it going."

Other travelers question the special treatment afforded registered travelers.

Barbara Dvorak, who waited recently in a relatively short regular security line en route to Florida, doesn't buy the TSA's argument that checking travelers' backgrounds improves security.

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Image Traveler Barbara Dvorak on her way from MSP to Florida

"I just think everybody should be treated the same." Dvorak says. "I don't think anybody's time is more important than anybody else's."

But businessman Pat Bassett says he hopes the registered-traveler program will become a permanent fixture in his travels.

"Time is money. The less time you have to wait, the more time you're productive, whether it's on the phone or whether it's through other means to get business done," Bassett says. "So yes, I would think that will help businessmen come back if they know that there's less time waiting in line."

Congress funded the $5 million, six-month trial program. If the program becomes permanent, the question of who pays for it, the federal government, the airlines, or travelers, may prove more difficult than attracting volunteer travelers willing to submit to background checks.

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