Return of the airport queue-jumpers - Monocolumn | Monocle


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8 August 2010

It’s Act Two for the American aviation industry’s beleaguered “registered-traveller” programme. Barely a year after a trio of firms gave up on the project, two upstarts will attempt to woo frequent fliers looking to avoid lengthy security-inspection lines at US airports.

The first is Missouri-based iQueue, which launches on 16 August at Indianapolis International Airport and promises members who pay a $169 (€128) annual fee fast-track service through security queues. The second – New York-based Alclear – intends to launch a similar product in Orlando, Florida and Denver, Colorado later this year. Unlike in their previous incarnations, which were overseen by the US Transportation Security Administration, the two programmes (at least for now) are open to both US and non-US citizens.

Both firms re-enter a market still contending with the key economic challenges that doomed their predecessors. Chief among them: their core market – first and business-class passengers – are flying up to 20 per cent less than in 2008, according to the International Air Transport Association. As for business travellers, whether flying up front or back in coach, they’re clearly in cost-containment mode.

“In this uncertain economic environment, people are watching their expenditures more carefully,” says Henry Harteveldt, principal travel and airline analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco. “Paying $119 or more a year to jump the line may not be viewed as worthwhile.”

Fred Fischer, iQueue’s principal and managing partner, clearly disagrees. He cites the 250,000 registered travellers and 22 member airports that participated in the previous programmes as evidence of ample demand.

What’s more, with the FAA currently installing some 450 new full-body scanners at airports nationwide, Fischer predicts security lines will become even more sluggish. “Scan times may have improved, but they’re going to soon get slower, says Fischer, who’s aiming for 25 iQueue member airports. “If we can save our user an extra hour of transit time, companies will certainly pay for this privilege.” 

Beyond the time savings, what both new firms have going for them is that neither is exactly new. iQueue is a revamped version of Flo – one of the original registered-traveller companies – while Alclear is a re-branded incarnation of Clear, which led the market before entering insolvency in 2009. Each was bought by new investors – a consortium shelled out $5.87m for bankrupt Clear. 

While both firms can certainly capitalise on existing equipment and know-how, Harteveldt is unsure whether such provenance will actually help or hinder the duo.

“iQueue will certainly need to study Clear’s mistakes,” he says, noting a well-publicised Clear security breach involving a missing laptop packed with member data. “Clear members,” he adds, “might need a lot of convincing to re-engage if they felt burned by the company’s abrupt shut-down.”


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