Faster security screening soon a reality for some fliers

Starting this fall, long airport security lines could be a thing of the past for some eligible frequent travelers.

The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday outlined plans to roll out a pilot system in coming months that would allow select air travelers to qualify for expedited screening.

Initially, only Delta Air Lines passengers flying through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County airports and American Airlines passengers traveling through Miami International and Dallas Fort Worth International airports will be eligible. Some members of U.S. “trusted traveler” programs — Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS — will also be eligible.

TSA will extend the program to include other major U.S. carriers — United, Southwest, JetBlue, US Airways and Alaska — as well as other airports when ready.

“These improvements will enable our officers to focus their efforts on higher risk areas,” TSA Administrator John Pistole told a group of aviation stakeholders. “Enhancing identity-based screening is another common sense step in the right direction as we continue to strengthen overall security and improve the passenger experience whenever possible.”

TSA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are partnering to run the program. The two agencies, along with airlines, will determine eligible travelers. Selected travelers must be U.S. citizens and must agree to supply additional information about themselves.

The U.S. Travel Association applauded the announcement. “While this program will be limited at the outset, it is a strong start. We look forward to working with TSA to move our nation’s air travel security away from today’s one-size-fits-all approach,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of group, said in a statement.

News of the pilot program came on the heels of a government report showing vulnerabilities at U.S. airports, including more than 25,000 security breaches over the past 10 years.

Currently, travelers who want expedited screening have limited options. CLEAR, a company that provides biometric identity verification, offers a fee-based subscription where travelers can supply background information and get a biometric card that allows them to bypass security lines. CLEAR’s service is currently offered at Denver International and Orlando International airports, though CLEAR President J. Bennet Waters says the company is negotiating to expand into other airports.

TSA’s pilot program is an important, giant step in what is likely going to be a lengthy process, Waters told msnbc.com.

In a statement, he added: “We strongly support TSA’s vision to focus more on identifying bad people, not just finding bad objects.”

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Joe Myxter has been running msnbc.com’s Travel section since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @joemyxter.

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