U.S. to launch trusted air traveler program in fall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. travelers frustrated with airport security may see a little relief later this year with the launch of a trusted traveler pilot program, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said on Wednesday.

TSA has been under pressure to improve the security screening process and create a program for those business and frequent fliers willing to undergo prior security background screenings so they can speed through airport checkpoints.

"We're working with airlines, U.S. carriers initially, to say for those who are willing to share information about themselves, what can we gain from that that would help us make informed judgments" about passenger security, TSA Administrator John Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

"We hope to ... trial that starting this fall in select airports and (with the) airlines," he said, adding that he hoped for significant changes next year. "It's a complex issue and so I want to basically underpromise and overdeliver."

While there have been some attempts at trusted traveler programs in the past, they have never advanced. But with the introduction of full-body scanners and physical patdowns, pressure has built up again for reviving such programs.

The U.S. Travel Association, which represents the hotel industry, online travel sites and car rental industry, is eager for Americans to travel more and earlier this year launched a campaign to press Congress to create such a program.

Separately, with continuing complaints about screening at U.S. airports which include full-body scanners and physical patdowns of passengers, including young children, Pistole said they are trying once again to address the concerns about kids.

TSA was confronted recently by another uproar when a six-year-old girl was subjected to a physical patdown after she went through a full-body scanner, raising questions about whether children pose a security risk.

Pistole said the child moved during the scan, prompting the patdown, but that TSA has once again changed its policy for such scenarios and that he plans to unveil more changes soon. But he noted that militants have used children in attacks before.

"We have changed the policy to say that there will be repeated efforts to resolve that without a patdown," Pistole said. "I will be announcing something in the not-too-distant future about a change in policy as it relates to children."

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Eric Walsh)