How to beat airport security lines
It can be done -- quite easily -- but you have to provide 'biometric' data and pay for the privilege.
This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.
What's it worth to shortcut those seemingly endless airport security or Customs lines?
How about $179 a year, but only at Orlando and Denver? What say $119 annually for just Indianapolis? Ah, $100 for a five-year deal to bypass the Customs interviews in 20 U.S. airports?
Just a couple of years after the biggest name in private line-jumping -- the non-frequent-flier kind -- went broke despite having about 200,000 subscribers willing to pay $199 a year for the privilege, the business is being resurrected bit by bit.
Verified Identity Pass folded in June 2009, done in by the cost of providing me-first service at 18 U.S. airports, plus a public relations fiasco when it temporarily lost a laptop that contained the personal information of 30,000 members.
Last year, a company called AlClear sifted through the rubble and paid $6 million for VIP's remains. Using virtually the same business model -- it even promised to add to its subscriptions the time left on customers' contracts when VIP closed down -- AlClear is operating its Clear system in Orlando and Denver for now. It says it has 160,000 members paying $179 a year ($50 for an extra adult family member). Post continues after video.
Another company, IQueue, running what it calls its Priority Access system, is currently in operation only at the airport in Indianapolis. Its fee is $119 a year, but it also will add the months left on VIP contracts. No membership figures were available.
Global Entry is the government player in the world of "registered travelers," the official term for authorized line-jumpers. Run at 20 airports by the Department of Homeland Security, it facilitates shortcuts around the glacial lines and mind-numbing interviews at Customs checks after you land in the U.S. The charge: a one-time $100 nonrefundable application fee, but you don't have to renew for five years.
The three have some things in common:
- They are aimed at business travelers to whom time is money and who don't twitch at the cost.
- All require background checks.
- They issue ID cards, containing "biometric data" -- your unique fingerprint and/or iris characteristics -- that must be scanned at airport kiosks.
- You can sign up online, but a brief personal appearance at an enrollment center (usually located at or near airports) eventually is necessary. Your card will come in the mail.
- There are no guarantees that you won't, at the request of the TSA or Customs, be short-circuited on your shortcut and forced to endure the same lines and checks as the riffraff. Almost all the time, however, domestic travelers will take an express lane to the carry-on and body-scan equipment, and international arrivals will zip directly from pre-line kiosk to baggage claim.
The issue, of course, is whether the time saved is worth the fees and time spent enrolling?
The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, conducted a survey of more than 1,000 travelers late in 2010, and found that 45% were willing to pay up to $150 a year to use the service. The rate was higher among frequent fliers, reported the Los Angeles Times:
While 53% of all travelers surveyed said they would be either "not at all likely" or "not too likely" to pay the pre-screening fee, the idea is popular among road warriors. Three-quarters of frequent business travelers and 61% of frequent leisure travelers said they would be either "very" or "somewhat" likely to pay such a fee.
Clearly, this is a decision based on volume. Those who fly just a couple of times of year will probably feel that saving 10 or 20 minutes in line is not worth the cost, especially if you fly with your significant other, thus increasing the cost. Your attitude would be quite different if you got on a plane 50 times a year as a solo business traveler, especially if you fly several airlines and haven't built up enough miles to use any single one's preferred customer lines.
There will be moments, however, that will make you regret that decision. Ever walk into an airport and see that the security line snakes endlessly through the main concourse? Or how about the time you flew from Paris to Atlanta and had 30 minutes to make your West Coast connection, only to take 45 minutes to get through Customs? The three-hour wait for the next plane allows a lot of soul-searching.
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