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may 19 2008

Airport security lines: How's life in the fast lane?

It's been just over a year since we last reported on Registered Traveler (RT), a program that enables people to zip through separate security lanes if they pay an annual fee of $100 and pass a security check by the government and a private company.

Launched in 2005, RT wasn't quick to take off, but the roll-out picked up recently. A total of 19 airports now either offer, or are about to offer, the lanes. In March, Washington's Dulles and Reagan airports introduced the service; Salt Lake City and Atlanta are expected to follow suit later this month.

Enrollment at RT's largest supplier, Clear (flyclear.com), is up to 140,000; new providers, such as Flo (flocard.com), hope to attract customers by adding membership perks, such as discounts on car rentals and cruises.

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection started online enrollment in a similar program that would expedite travelers through customs lanes. Like RT, Global Entry (cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel) costs $100 per year and travelers must undergo a background check to join. Dulles, New York/JFK and Houston airports will offer the service in June; others are expected to follow.

I've encountered the Clear Lane several times at JFK's Terminal 4. Two thoughts: 1. I've never actually seen anyone go through it, and 2. I was moving through regular security so quickly that there wouldn't have been time to see a Registered Traveler whiz by me. (Not to mention that I haven't had to divulge personal information nor pay $100.) It still seems like a gimmick—and a waste of valuable airport real estate—to me.

Regarding Global Entry, my guess is that those who would join aren't the ones getting hassled by customs officials in the first place—which only seems to leave the rest of us, and, more importantly, guests to our country, even more irritated at awfully long lines.

Are these programs a good thing? Any Registered Travelers out there who want to talk about their experience? What about Global Entry—would you do it? Why or why not?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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