Atlanta Airport Streamlining Security With Fast Lanes

Jan 2, 2008 12:19 PM

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More security lanes -- including some that fliers would pay to use -- could be in store for the sometimes clogged security checkpoints at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport over the next few months, reports The Atlanta Journal Consistitution.

Airport officials are reviewing two proposals to provide so-called Lexus fast lanes, which customers -- primarily business fliers -- could use for a fee. Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Ben DeCosta, meanwhile, in a separate move has ordered his staff to study the feasibility of adding three more security lanes to the 28 that now exist, possibly by summer.

The world's busiest airport sought proposals for the paid security lanes earlier this year, and two companies submitted plans by the deadline this month.

AJC reports that one, New York-based Clear, has already begun signing up customers in Atlanta, even though airport officials have not decided when -- or even whether -- the paid fast lanes will be added at Hartsfield-Jackson. Another company, FLO Corp., has also bid for the project, but it currently is not operating any paid fast lanes at any airport.

Clear cards are currently accepted at Albany, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, LaGuardia, Little Rock, New York's JFK, Newark, Orlando, Reno, San Francisco, San José and Westchester County (NY) airports.

To date, every airport that has selected a provider in an open, competitive process has chosen Clear. In addition to Reagan, Dulles and Hartsfield-Jackson, other airports that are currently seeking competitive bids from registered traveler service providers are Oakland (CA) International Airport and Denver International Airport.

Denver International's Deputy Manager of Aviation Patrick Heck announced that a registered traveler program would be launched at the airport after the holidays. Denver-area businesses have been working with Clear to begin enrollment for their travelers in anticipation of the service launching at the airport.

Clear CEO Steven Brill told AJC he expects the lanes to start operating by next month, and he estimated his company has already signed up 1,500 Atlanta-area customers. Brill, whose company operates paid lanes at a dozen U.S. airports, has said there are 200,000 potential customers for his company's services in metro Atlanta.

"Hartsfield is a big deal for the program," Brill says. "Atlanta is the World Series for us."
The Clear program charges fliers $100 a year. They undergo a Transportation Security Administration background check and have iris scans and fingerprints imprinted onto a biometric card. Customers use that card to check in at Clear airport security checkpoints.

At the security lanes, Clear assistants help passengers remove laptops and other items for the scanners. They must still pass through the same body and carry-on scanners as other passengers, but some airports have set up special "designated" lanes just for the paid customers.

Clear assures customers they can get through security in about four minutes -- a feature that has led more than 75,000 people nationwide to sign up for the program. About 40,000 travelers use the program in Orlando, where it began.

Companies that provide the paid lanes are part of the TSA's "Registered Traveler" program. Every company's biometric card works with other companies' airport checkpoints. A Clear customer, for example, could access FLO checkpoints and lanes and vice versa.

DeCosta said the airport is reviewing the Clear and FLO proposals. He thinks one benefit could be shorter lines for all travelers.

"One of the things we want to ensure is that the [paid] lanes will improve checkpoint times for everyone, not just the people who pay to be on this program," DeCosta told AJC. "If the potential for improvement exists, then I'm in favor of going forward with it."

AJC reports that the airport's major tenant, Delta Air Lines, has been cool to the idea of paid lanes, such as those proposed by Clear and FLO. Delta and other airlines already offer special front-of-the-line security assistance to top customers.

"Given the space constraints of the Atlanta checkpoint, it is critical that these proposals are examined closely to ensure that they do not set aside limited real estate and security throughout to inadvertently increase wait times for everyone," Delta spokesman Kent Landers says.

One of the ideas touted by Brill is a plan to have Clear customers pass through security without removing their shoes. However, those shoe-scanning machines are still being tested, and it is not clear when they will be in service.

DeCosta, meanwhile, said he wants to look at the possibility of adding up to three additional security gates, no matter what happens on the paid lanes. His staff is already looking at how the airport can add the lanes before the busy summer travel season.

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