Just one year after the "Registered Traveler" program launched at Orlando International Airport, the company that created the private-sector concept reports a renewal rate of nearly 100 per cent.
"We have near-total customer satisfaction, so people apparently think it's worth the money," said Steven Brill, founder and chief executive officer of Verified Identity Pass, in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.com.
To get his $79.95 CLEAR card, consumers sign up online at www.FlyClear.com, submit their information to the Transportation Security Administration, and receive approval in less than two weeks.
Less than one per cent are rejected, Brill said.
With 25,700 people signed up for the pilot program in Orlando, Registered Traveler serves 10-15 per cent of the passenger traffic at the airport. As it expands to other airports within the next two years, it may serve more than half the passengers at a business-oriented location like LAX or Chicago's O'Hare, Brill predicted.
There's no cost to the government and passengers' privacy is protected more through Registered Traveler than it is through the E-Z Pass highway toll system. At least that's Brill's theory.
"The big difference between us and E-Z Pass is they have to know where you went because that's how they prepare your bill," he explained. "By having a set fee for a year, we don't need to know that and we don't know that. If I were subpoened and someone held a gun to my head, I couldn't tell you where or when any of our members used their card."
The 55-year-old Brill, who said he is a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said his company includes an identity-theft warranty as part of the CLEAR card membership.
"There's a right way and a wrong way to do this," he said. "We built our website so that we can't track you."
There's an independent privacy ombudsman charged with fielding potential violations. He can post his findings on the website without interference from Brill or his staff.
The creator of Court TV and a magazine called The American Lawyer, Brill founded Verified Identity Pass three years ago.
"We decided Registered Traveler would be a private-sector program supervised and regulated by the TSA," he said. "We don't make security decisions. When someone applies to join our program, we send the information to TSA. They do the background check and give us a yes or a no. We do everything else."
According to Brill, 21 airports have expressed interest in Registered Traveler and three -- San Jose, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis -- have already signed contracts to work with his company. He also said eight Category X airports (the largest) showed interest during a conference call with the TSA last week.
The idea is that pre-screened passengers pass through security faster -- thereby reducing the crowding in remaining lanes and making all lines shorter in length and duration.
"They didn't make the George Washington Bridge wider when they added E-Z Pass," Brill said. "They just figured out a way to predict and allocate the number of people coming through with or without it. E-Z Pass is great for the person who has it but it's also good for the people who don't."
He said Registered Traveler works the same way.
"If our process moves 15 per cent faster and I put 10 per cent more people in my lane, my lane will go faster than before but the other lines and lanes will be shorter," Brill insisted.
He added that new equipment now being tested will permit passengers to leave shoes and jackets on, thereby speeding up the process by almost 45 per cent.
"Originally, everybody thought this was going to be one big government contract with usual suspects," Brill recalled, "but I thought taxpayers shouldn't pay for it. I also worried about the privacy implications of having one program that kept all the data was really ominous. And I wanted customer service to be good: if you call our 800 number, you want a real person to answer the phone in two rings. You want good service, privacy protections, competitive pricing, and the ability to cancel and get your money back the day you're not satisfied."
Brill's concept has many fans in Florida.
According to Henry Morgan of Ocoee, 30 miles northwest of Orlando International, "The last time I went through the CLEAR post and got to the X-ray line, the guy in front of me (who had waited 50 minutes to get to that point) said, 'Wow! How did you do that?' When I started explaining CLEAR, the TSA guy attending the roll-out part of the machine handed him a CLEAR brochure. I was completely through all of security in less than four minutes."
Morgan, a regional manager for Highline Products, flies an average of three times per month andt insists the program is worth the cost.
"It's still a bargain even though it is only in Orlando and only for outgoing flights," he said. "I no longer have to rise at an inhumane hour to make a 7 a.m. flight. In fact, my last flight was saved by CLEAR. Due to some unanticipated delays at home, I just made my flight. Had it not been for CLEAR, I surely would have missed it."
Morgan, whose home is 12 miles due west of downtown Orlando, said he has been a happy CLEAR customer since July 20, 2005 -- three days after it started.
Frequent Flyers Re-Up for Pre-Screening Program...