New TSA 'Trusted Traveler' program could boost airport security

It could eliminate some of the hassles for frequent flyers and allow more focus on unknown travelers.


Most Americans fully understand and accept the need to be screened -- even searched -- at airports. We see the airport hassle as a fair trade to prevent tragic acts of terrorism such as the ones the nation experienced a decade ago on Sept. 11.

But most folks would like to see more common sense injected into the airport searches.

Isn't there somewhere to streamline the process to make it a bit more passenger friendly starting with the requirement every person must take off his or her shoes?

There very will could be. The Transportation Security Administration is moving forward with a "trusted traveler" program to expedite screening at airport checkpoints for those who voluntarily release certain information about themselves.

The pilot project initially will be small, TSA official say, but could eventually change airport security.

The idea is seen by some as not only a way to eliminate hassles for travelers but to make flying even safer. It should divert airport security from those who are not at risk so it can be focused on unknown travelers .

TSA officials said passengers who register for the trusted traveler program might be allowed to skip taking off their shoes.

But soon most people might be skipping shoe searches. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week that eventually the shoe-removal requirement will be dropped.

"You're going to see better technology over time" that will detect shoe bombs without running the shoes through the X-ray machine, she said.

It makes sense. The 9/11 attacks are not at the root of the separate shoe search. The shoe searches started after 2001 when Richard Reid, born in England, tried to set off a bomb in his shoe on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. The self-proclaimed al-Qaeda member was subdued by the crew and passengers after his shoe failed to explode.

"You don't take your shoes off anywhere but in the U.S. -- not in Israel, in Amsterdam, in London," said Yossi Sheffi, an Israeli-born expert on risk analysis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We all know why we do it here, but this seems to be a make-everybody-feel-good thing rather than a necessity."

While new technology is on the horizon, it isn't here yet.

Until then folks might consider enrolling in the "trusted traveler" program that will begin testing next month. The program could be a positive step toward adding a little more common sense to air travel security.


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