Frequent Fliers: Sign Me Up!

A long line at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport 6-28-04 as frequent business flyers wait to sign up for a 90-day project allowing them to trade personal privacy for shorter lines at the airport. The project is the first in the country and includes "biometric" identification and criminal background checks.
A group of frequent fliers stood in long lines at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, hoping the wait would mean less time in airport security lines in the future.

Those chosen for a three-month pilot program for the Transportation Security Administration will be able to bypass extra security inspections if they agree to submit to background checks in advance.

Minnesota's largest airport became the first in the country to begin signing up hand-picked participants.

Only fliers who travel at least 75,000 miles contacted by Northwest Airlines are eligible. The TSA aims to sign up 2,000 people who fly often through the Minneapolis facility, said spokeswoman Amy Von Walter. By Monday night, about 700 people had applied.

The test program will be expanded to airports in Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington between now and November, officials said. It could be expanded nationally based on the tests results and funding, TSA officials said.

Starting sometime in July, participants will be able to pass through a special lane at one of the Twin Cities airport's security checkpoints.

Ken Buchanan, 46, hopes he's one of them. He said he travels 100,000 miles a year for his consulting and software company and for about half his flights he gets picked for a random search.

Other times he's forced to wait in security lines. "If I have to get into line after line after line, it just raises problems," he said.

Participants in the pilot program will be required to give the government their name, address, phone number, birth date and "biometric identifiers," including fingerprint and iris scan. That information will be matched against law enforcement and intelligence databases such as the terrorist watch list.

Brad Jolson, 48, who said he travels about two weeks out of every month, said it's worth giving up some personal information in exchange for an easier time at security checkpoints.

"If it speeds up the process, and you don't have to take everything out of your bag, you're better off," Jolson.

By Brian Bakst