A Better Passport: The Human Hand

Fed up with waiting in long passport lines when you get back from an overseas flight? If you're one of the nearly 10 million passengers who returned home last year through John F. Kennedy or Newark International Airports, the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service is offering a way to zip you through. You won't even have to show your passport.

The INS Passenger Accelerated Service System (INSPASS) allows you to use an electronic hand reader to verify that you are who you say you are. The key to the quick ID review is the human hand. Like fingerprints, every hand pattern is unique. The INS digitally captures the design of a participant's hand and embeds it on a wallet-size white plastic card, which the traveler carries. Readers located in INS PASS kiosks at arrival terminals then can identify the person by matching the print on the card against his or her hand placed palm-down on the machine.

SIGN UP. The program is open to all U.S. citizens and most Canadians, Japanese, and Western Europeans. Although now limited to two U.S. airports in the New York area, they are important ones. One passenger in five returning to the U.S. lands in the New York area, where they must clear immigration before heading to their final destination. What's more, the INS hopes to expand the system to other U.S. cities. Toronto's airport has just started clearing INS PASS cardholders through U.S. immigration if they are traveling to the U.S. The airport in Frankfurt, Germany is also studying the system.

You can obtain an INS PASS application from the six INS PASS Enroll Centers at JFK or the one at International Terminal B at Newark. Or call the INS directly for an I-833 form (212 206-6500 for JFK; 201 645-4400 for Newark). Participating airlines--American, Delta, British Airways, United, and TWA--also have them.

To qualify for INS PASS, a person should make at least three flights a year from overseas into JFK or Newark. So far, only 20,000 persons have signed up. There's no reason not to. All you have to do is show customs officials the receipt (or I-94 departure document for foreigners) that INS PASS machines issue, and you'll be in your taxi while fellow passengers wait in line.

After the first anniversary of the $1.5 million project in late May, the INS will issue a cost-effectiveness study. The goal is to put coded handprint data on machine-readable passports. Then all you'll have to worry about will be lost luggage.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.