The TSA recently announced that it is moving forward with two programs to improve aviation security, Trusted Traveler and a better system of checking on passengers before they can fly. I believe these are two steps in the right direction.
In a recent USAToday editorial, the paper disagreed based on the fact that the programs have not worked in the past. However, the previous trusted traveler programs were not implemented the way they were supposed to be – they were set up to fail from the beginning.
It is interesting how we do this in the U.S. We take a great process and drain all of the benefit, then implement some impotent form of it, but we still call it the same thing, then we’re surprised when it doesn’t work.
USAToday claims that the first time Trusted Traveler was tried Congress railed against the program and killed it. The second time, the program was called Registered Traveler and resulted only in front-of-the-line privileges with no actual reduction in any security processes.
Here’s the real story.
Included in the Aviation & Transportation Security Act of 2001, was the Trusted Traveler program. The intent of the program was to allow certain travelers who submitted to in-depth background checks and submission of biometric information, in exchange for less screening. However, with TSA’s early stumbles, the agency quickly decided that they didn’t trust anyone and the program should be called Registered Traveler and that there would be no lessening of the screening process.
Airport’s and private companies made a go of it anyway, banking that frequent flyers would pay just for the right to get to the front of the line – and they were right to a certain extent. The airlines initially didn’t jump on board with RT, claiming that their frequent flyer preferred lines did the same thing. Clear, the company that rolled out the first RT programs, went under a few years ago, but has now resurfaced, and personally, I’m enjoying the privilege – particularly after spending 30 minutes in the frequent flyer line a few weeks ago.
Interestingly, the government still wanted all the background information and submission of biometric data to be in the RT, but you still underwent the same security process as everyone else – in fact, that way the program worked out is that RT members pay for the privilege of being the most vetted and screened passenger on the plane.
TSA Administrator Pistole however has resurrected the original intent of the program.
Previously, the hue and cry about Trusted Traveler didn’t just come from the politicians and TSA, it came from non-frequent flyers who cried that everyone should be forced to go through the entire process. But think about this – if a program is established where individuals submit to very in-depth background checks in exchange for less screening, screening lines for non-frequent flyers would get shorter and would move faster. Plus, from an aviation security perspective, we would be narrowing the haystack down so we’re looking through less hay for the evasive needle.
There is always the argument about the so called “clean” terrorist – someone who is not on the grid, has no criminal background, and no record with law enforcement could become a trusted traveler and then have an easier time smuggling a weapon or bomb on board a plane. Remember that aviation security is a system of layers. While most of the general public thinks that the screening process IS the entire aviation security program, it’s not. Plus, the screening process is not perfect, and there are other areas of weaknesses where individuals could penetrate the system, such as catering, vendor deliveries and employees. While there are security processes in place in each of those areas as well, there is no 100% solution to all of this. The only way to completely protect aircraft from terrorism is to park all the planes.