TSA’s ‘Trusted Traveler’ – Are Its Flaws Insurmountable?

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Administrator John Pistole has recently announced plans to create and oversee a ‘Trusted Traveler‘ program. Under the TSA’s proposed ‘Trusted Traveler’ program airline passengers would be able to avoid Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, leave their shoes on and leave their laptops in their bags.

The TSA’s proposed ‘Trusted Traveler’ program is expected to launch the coming summer, being tested on uniformed and badged airline pilots and flight attendants. Should the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program testing be successful with airline flight crews, the TSA expects to implement the program for frequent flyers.

Under the TSA’s current proposal for selecting ‘Trusted Travelers’ the agency will identify candidates through examining data from U.S. airline frequent flyer programs. Once selected for the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program passengers would be identified by a barcode printed on their boarding pass, the barcode would be scanned by a TSA Travel Document Checker (TDC) and be sent to an expedited security lane.

Under the current plan for the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program passengers who frequent airlines with no “elite levels” could end up bypassed for participating in the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program, as could passengers who are frequent flyers in the United States but who choose to belong to a foreign frequent flyer program (disclosure, my current frequent flyer elite status is entirely with two different British airlines, although I primarily fly domestically in the United States). An additional problem with offering the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program to U.S. frequent flyers is the potential for airlines to balk at turning over frequent flyer program specifics to the TSA. While the TSA knows when passengers fly from the required passenger information for flying, other proprietary information may be intertwined and be problematic for airlines to separate before allowing the TSA to comb through their frequent flyer data.

Of course, nothing is as straightforward as it seems with the TSA. Admin. Pistole has stated that along with “keep[ing] some randomness and unpredictability in there so terrorists can’t game the system,” the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program would not be available for passengers on all flights. The TSA presently intends to only implement the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program on pre-determined low risk routes, flights likely to have a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) on board and to not be offered on flights that may also have a passenger on board who is on the “watch list.”

Along with some of the obvious flaws in the TSA’s ‘Trusted Traveler’ program, a TSA threat assessment analyst has offered up their opinion on the program from their unique vantage point:

“Based upon the information we have been provided for establishing the Trusted Traveler program it is entirely possible for a long term sleeper cell to have completely clean members become frequent flyers for the sole purpose of bypassing security scrutiny at a later date. With no explosive detection in place and the ability to easily conceal explosives from all forms of current airport security, the TSA’s Traveler Plan gives a potential long term terrorist one more option to game the system. For Trusted Traveler to work the TSA needs to perform real background checks not cursory background checks in conjunction with frequent flyer information.”

The TSA has the opportunity to make travel for frequent flyers easier again … but can they do it effectively?

Happy Flying!


  1. The current state of security makes me think that before the TSA there were hijackings every other week. That was not true though, however based on anecdotal evidence security incidents have increased since the creation of the TSA.

  2. I’ll believ it when I see it. If brains were gas, TSA couldn’t drive a motorcycle around the inside of a Cheerio.

  3. This is still a half attempt that doesn’t really make sense under scrutiny. I’m a frequent flyer but also maintain a gov’t security clearance. So my frequent flyer status is more valuable to fit a low-risk security profile over a periodic, rigorous background check and investigation process? Every US airport should be exercising their right to opt out and provide their own security process and a risk assessment policies that actually make sense.

  4. This whole TSA screening system is (unfortunately) needed to help ensure our safety during air travel! And not to play “Devil’s Advocate”, but the system does impose scrutinized inspections upon person’s that pose no threat to anyone! We have all seen or read about horror stories of TSA dealing w/ the elderly and small children! TSA has the enormous task of verifying everyone is safe! Part of which includes airline pilots, crew, staff, our military and even our law enforcement! I must admit; that I (like everyone else) do not like or enjoy being scrutinized while traveling! I know that I am not a threat just as millions of other travelers are not, but TSA does not know or care that we are not! They have a job to do & I hope that they conduct themselves in a professional manner w/o being offensive. I hear there is a new “Trusted Traveler” program, I will attempt to expedite my travel needs by registering my 7 yrs of USMC and 29 yrs of law Enforcement! Maybe someone w/ TSA will realize I qualify to some type of an exemption! Maybe you can do the same, hopefully this can help you!

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