TSA Considering ‘Trusted Traveler’ Program to Expedite Security Screening

Air travel security has become time consuming and cumbersome with the TSA regulations for screening passengers. However, the TSA has begun considering a “trusted traveler” program recommended by the US Travel Association that would pre-screen passengers via background checks that would enable them to bypass a lot of the extra security screenings.

If you are a frequent air traveler, it is quite likely that you find the increased security procedures the TSA uses to be cumbersome and time consuming. Some passengers have said that they feel that their privacy rights are being violated with the body scanner images and pat downs, while others say that they think it makes them feel safer when flying.

Regardless of where you come down on this issue, it’s hard to disagree that it does require more time to get through the airport.  Clearly the TSA doesn’t want to be engaging in any sort of profiling since all passengers are potentially subjected to the security procedures.  But what if there was a list of passengers who had been previously cleared via background checks who could go through an expedited security screening process?

The US Travel Association recently called for implementing a program such as this, and apparently the TSA is now giving it some consideration. A recent blog post by the TSA notes that TSA Administrator John Pistole is “on board with a known traveler approach.”

The TSA blog post then states:

One possibility would be to have willing passengers provide more information about themselves. A recent example of using identity-based screening would be the decision Administrator Pistole made to change way we screen pilots. It just makes sense that the person who has been cleared to control the plane should not need to undergo the same level of screening.

Presumably, this would require background checking to ensure that a passenger hasn’t been involved in past crimes or affiliated with known terrorist groups. According to an article in The Washington Post on the issue, “Even a voluntary trusted-traveler approach would require passengers to provide credit information, tax returns and other personal data to verify that members pose little or no risk.”

The article further describes how the US Travel Association report envisions such a system working:

The report recommends a voluntary trusted-traveler program in which passengers would supply fingerprints and other personal information in return for an identification card that would allow them to bypass security lines.

Members would enter a kiosk where either fingerprint or iris scanning technology would be used to confirm their identity. Both the passenger and carry-on bags would pass through an explosives-detection device, but there would be no requirement to remove shoes, coats or hats.

For frequent travelers, such a program would be a potential benefit since they wouldn’t have to spend as much time going through security checkpoints. On the other hand, some travelers might be put off by having to give their personal information to the government.

The US Travel Association recently commissioned a study which suggested that a large majority of travelers would indeed prefer a pre-screened passenger list.  According to the study findings:

Eight in 10 [passengers] support a trusted traveler program that would provide alternative screening measures for American citizens who submit to a background check and meet other risk criteria.  Respondents would take an average of two to three more trips per year if the hassle involved in flying could be reduced without compromising security.  Those additional trips would add $84.6 billion in travel spending and support 888,000 additional jobs, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association.

This is not a done deal, but is being considered. And as for a trusted traveler program reforming current physical security procedures, the TSA also said:

“Physical screening will likely never go away completely, but the idea of adding identity-based security makes good sense and it’s an idea we’re actively exploring.”

So for those of you hoping implementing a program like this would mean the end of the pat downs and body scanners, you are probably out of luck.  But it would give travelers with clean backgrounds the option of bypassing most of the security.


We asked FedSmith.com readers when we originally published this story if they would support a trusted traveler program as proposed by the US Travel Association, and the results of our informal survey closely resembled the results of the survey that the US Travel Association commissioned, that being an overwhelming majority favoring such a program.  Here’s what you told us:

How often do you travel by plane?

Once a week or more 3.3%
A few times a month 13.8%
Once every few months 27.7%
A few times a year 39.1%
Less than once a year 13.6%
I do not travel by airplane 2.4%

Would you support a trusted traveler program if it let you bypass the usual security procedures?

Yes 87.4%
No 7.6%
Not sure 5.0%

Would you be willing to submit your personal information to the government for a background check to enroll in a trusted traveler program?

Yes 85.4%
No 7.6%
Not sure 6.9%

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.