by Michael J. Shapiro | March 01, 2008

RT Redux

The domestic U.S. Registered Traveler program has been slow in taking off, but in the past year it has gained a lot of traction. Seventeen airports have approved Registered Traveler programs (of those, 14 had lanes up and running as of press time), and approximately 65,000 to 70,000 travelers have enrolled.

RT memberships current-ly are provided by Clear (run by Verified Identity Pass), Unisys RT Go (which was acquired by FLO Corp. and will be integrated into that company’s offering this quarter) and, to a smaller extent, Vigilant Solutions’ Preferred Traveler. Cardholders from any program have RT status and privileges at all participating airports.

Following are some recent developments that offer incentives and potential for RT numbers to grow.

* The Society of Government Travel Professionals has partnered with FLO Corp. to give preferred RT membership pricing to about 550 SGTP members.

* Through an agreement with Hilton, members of the Hilton HHonors loyalty program can redeem points for FLO memberships.

* The Denver Grand Hyatt is now one of six hotels (including the Denver Hyatt Tech Center; the Grand Hyatt New York and the Marriott Marquis in New York City; the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco) with a Clear enrollment station in the lobby, enabling guests to get the iris and fingerprint scans necessary to obtain a Clear security card.

* The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority selected Clear to provide RT lanes at Dulles International and Reagan National airports. The lanes should begin operation sometime this spring. Clear also received permission to operate in Oakland airport in Northern California.

Clear charges $100 for the first year of membership, plus an additional $28 fee to cover the background security checks conducted by the Transportation Security Administration. FLO has been selling Unisys memberships for $100 per year and soon will offer $100 and $200 FLO card options. FLO offers packages that include extras such as worldwide travel assistance and identity-theft protection. Vigilant Preferred Traveler memberships cost between $149 and $349, with the higher price levels including parking and lounge-access benefits.

The government could be doing more to speed things along, according to National Business Travel Association officials. In a recent report, the association criticized the TSA for demonstrating “tepid support” for RT. NBTA recommends doubling enrollment and adding additional hub airports over the coming year, and underscores the importance of increasing support from Congress and the executive branch.

Phoning It In

In another attempt to streamline travel, Continental Airlines and the TSA announced the Paperless Boarding Pass pilot program in December 2007. Individual travelers on nonstop domestic Continental flights from Houston (Terminals B, C and E) can forgo the paper pass in favor of displaying an electronic version on a cell phone or PDA.

When checking in, travelers can request the boarding pass be e-mailed to said device. The resulting electronic pass displays a barcode, which the traveler shows at security and when boarding. This system improves the ability to detect fake boarding passes, according to the airline, in addition to saving paper.

Continental is the first carrier to pilot this technology.

Flexible Blue

JetBlue intensified efforts to woo business travelers in late January when the carrier introduced refundable fares. Those who purchase these tickets can make unlimited changes before departure, including to the passenger name, with no additional charge. Changes can be made by phone or online.