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TSA’s Express Security is Grounded

More than 250,000 frequent flyers who pay $200 a year to speed through airport security lines lost that privilege Monday when a company that runs the expedited lines went out of business.

Verified Identity Pass, which operates its Clear program in 18 airports, said Monday that it would shut operations at every airport by 2 a.m. ET today. The program started at Orlando International Airport in 2005 and grew to major hubs such as Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

A statement on Verified's Web site said the company "had been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations." There was no information about whether enrollees would get refunds.

The announcement is a huge blow to lengthy efforts by travel groups and Congress to ease airport screening for "trusted travelers" who clear a background check.

"I don't see any future in Registered Traveler," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group that had opposed the program.

The push for faster screening began after the 9/11 attacks, when tightened security led to massive lines in airports and complaints from travelers. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created the Registered Traveler program that lets companies establish exclusive security lines at airports.

Verified dominated the business, getting hired at 18 of the 21 airports with reserved security lines, except for airports in Jacksonville, Louisville and Reno. Verified said in May that its lines had been used 2.5 million times. Last year, the company announced plans to provide express security lines at NFL games in Atlanta, Denver and San Francisco.

The concept of expedited security lines faced obstacles. The TSA insisted that passengers enrolled in Registered Traveler go through the same security screening as ordinary travelers. Verified founder Steven Brill had urged the TSA to allow people in his program, who passed background checks, to get easier screening, perhaps by keeping on their shoes or coats at checkpoints.

Brill said Monday that he had left Verified in March to start a news-industry business and that he was surprised the company could not reach an agreement with creditors. The private company was funded by Lockheed Martin, GE Security, Lehman Brothers and several venture-capital firms.

The Obama administration has not appointed a new TSA chief, which Brill said might have made new investors reluctant to put money into Verified.

Verified acting CEO Jim Moroney did not immediately return a call Monday evening.

Deborah Ale Flint, assistant aviation director at Oakland International Airport, said the "downturn in the economy affected Clear's ability to operate." Oakland began Registered Traveler in March 2008.

Castelveter of the transport association said the program provided "no real customer convenience or security benefit." Most airlines offer exclusive security lines to top customers, who still must clear the same security procedures as other passengers.

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