The deadline for the so-called “sequestration” in the U.S. budget passed March 1, with mixed reports coming out of the nation’s airports. The sequester will cut $1.2 Trillion from the U.S. budget, including $400 million during the next nine months from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), according to a letter to the White House from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner. The cuts will also take $300 million from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the TSA, said she expects wait times to double at some airports due to upcoming furloughs for agents and air traffic controllers (all this despite the TSA signing a $50 million contract for new uniforms just before the sequester went into effect). The Federal Aviation Administration, however, told CNN that no immediate consequences have been felt by the sequester in the first few days since its enactment.
Business travelers will need to get creative in order to get through security check-points as fast and efficiently as possible. That extra hour can be the difference between making that 3 p.m. meeting in New York or being forced to re-schedule. There are a few programs out there which frequent flyers can look into that could potentially save them time, money and stress.
Frequent Traveler Programs
Several airports across the U.S. have special security lanes for first-class and other passengers who are part of frequent flyer programs. Flyers who book their flights with an American Express business credit card could be classified as business travelers and get access to the fast lane as well. But some members of Congress, particularly Senator Ben Nelson, D-Neb, believe the “special lanes” are unfair to those who do not have the means to purchase their way to quicker screenings and boarding. Though Nelson introduced legislation to ban preferred lanes, frequent flyer programs are still going strong and are an excellent workaround for potential sequestration delays.
This expedited screening service was launched by the TSA in 2012 to help frequent flyers bypass some pre-boarding protocols. Participating airlines—including American, United, and Delta—must invite frequent travelers to join the program and it is not available for everyone. Once passengers accept the invitation, their boarding passes are embedded with a code informing security screeners of the status. TSA Pre participants can skip, among other things, removing their shoes and belts, and do not have to remove laptops from bags.
The 2009 bankruptcy of Clear opened the door for new ownership and a company makeover. Clear provides members a “CLEARcard” which allows them to go through “CLEARlanes” at participating airports. Flyers can simply register online and visit an enrollment center, which verifies their passport and other required identification. Clear, which claims to have saved over 21 million minutes of travel time, currently services only certain terminals at five airports.