WASHINGTON -- Delta Air Lines is planning to become the first major U.S. carrier to offer its passengers the option of paying for speedier security lines.
Delta says it will start the Registered Traveler program this summer at terminals in New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and in Los Angeles International Airport. Registered Traveler offers passengers who pay $128 a year can go through an exclusive line at airport checkpoints that is typically shorter than other security lines.
Until now the Registered Traveler program has only been available to travelers who sign up for the service through an airport or a few foreign airlines. Delta has hired Verified Identity Pass of New York City to enroll passengers in Registered Traveler and operate the lines at the three airports.
Verified is one of the main forces behind the program. It will collect the $128 enrollment fee and will give a share to Delta, Verified president Steven Brill said.
Delta's decision could accelerate the growth of a program that has expanded gradually in the past two years and is now in 18 airports, including San Francisco, Denver and Washington Dulles. There are 125,000 people in Registered Traveler, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the program.
"It's a very good sign that you have a major airline involved in it," said Bill Connors, executive director of the National Business Travel Association, which supports Registered Traveler. "Momentum was slow at the beginning but now it's really starting to pick up."
Other airlines and the airline trade group the Air Transport Association have opposed Registered Traveler, saying it does not help airport security. A year ago, the association sent letters to airport directors urging them not to offer Registered Traveler.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said airlines oppose the program because it competes with the exclusive security lines they provide to first-class passengers and frequent flyers.
Delta said that Registered Traveler will appeal to thousands of "coach" passengers who can't get into such elite security lines. Surveys of coach passegers found that many would pay to have faster security lines, said Jeff Robertson, head of Delta's SkyMiles program.
People using Registered Traveler lines face the same screening process as other passengers. American, Continental, Northwest and Southwest said they had no plans to start Registered Traveler lines.