TSA to Expand Precheck Program

February 18, 2014

THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION is opening up its Precheck program to the public. Precheck-certified travelers enjoy expedited screening procedures, contingent on a background check. Qualified participants are allowed to leave their shoes on, for example (unless they cause the magnetometer to sound), and do not need to remove laptops or liquids from their carry-on bags. To this point, only those passengers pre-approved by airlines were eligible for Precheck enrollment. Now, any airline passenger may apply — for an $85 fee, renewable every five years.

There are things to like about Precheck, and things to not like.

What’s to like is that it helps move TSA away from a one-size-fits-all screening approach, in which every single person who flies is seen as an equally potential threat, toward a more “risk-based” strategy, as the experts call it, in which passengers are effectively profiled into categories, some of whom receive more scrutiny than others. The strategy we’ve grown accustomed to is simply not a workable one in a country with over two million people passing through airports each day. The risk-based concept, while itself imperfect, is probably the best alternative. Precheck-approved qualified flyers will be freed from the tedium of the screening line.

The thing is, most of that tedium needn’t exist in the first place, and that’s where the Precheck idea becomes frustrating. Rather than fix what’s wrong with current protocols, TSA will now charge you a fee to circumvent them! What a peculiarly American concept, no? The fundamentals of Precheck ought to have been adopted several years ago, and their cost should be included in the existing TSA budget. Airline passengers already are paying enough to TSA in ticket taxes.

We also wonder if TSA’s Precheck infrastructure is ready to handle a large-scale influx of passengers. Are we just trading one set of long lines and frustration for another?

TSA's rather hideous emblem

TSA’s rather hideous emblem

Three ideas to help fix airport security…

>> Speed up and streamline the screening process for everyone, not just those willing to pay extra. Confiscating hobby tools and toy guns does nothing to make us safer, while wasting extraordinary amounts of time and money. As I’ve argued in the past, the success of the September 11th attacks had nothing to do with weapons. The hijackers could have used any form of hand-made weapon. What the men exploited wasn’t a weakness in security, but a weakness in our mindset, and our understanding of a hijacking, based on decades of precedent. The only weapon that really mattered was the simplest, lowest-tech weapon of all: the element of surprise. Let’s move past our self-defeating fixation with the September 11th scheme and stop fussing over harmless pointy objects. The focus should be on explosives. Or, perhaps more importantly, on people who might use explosives, which brings us to the next recommendation…

>> Take a percentage of screeners now working at airport checkpoints and re-train them to work away from public view. When it comes to protecting passengers from criminals and terrorists, screeners do have a role to play, but mostly it is one of last resort. The more critical work belongs to law enforcement and TSA working together backstage, so to speak: inspecting luggage and cargo, reviewing passenger data, and foiling plotters before they reach the airport.

>> Deploy more TSA staff overseas — in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America — where they can assist local security in the protection of US-bound aircraft. It is much more probable that a bomb or other attack would originate from overseas, yet our focus has been focused domestically. Again, this seems to be part of our September 11th hangover. We’ve got high-tech equipment and body scanners at regional airports in Ohio, but not in many cities around the world from where an attack is far likelier to emanate. Does anybody remember the comedy of errors that allowed the so-called “Underwear Bomber” to make his way onto a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight out of Amsterdam? Here was a Nigerian citizen who’d spent time in Yemen, traveling on a one-way ticket, and whose own father had tried to warn American authorities about him. And here we are confiscating plastic squirt-guns from four year-old kids at regional airports in Utah. The trick is getting foreign government to allow American security personnel to operate at their airports, but certainly some level of this is possible. Already in many countries US carriers hire third-party contractors to assist with passenger and luggage screening.

TSA parody logo by Travis McHale

TSA parody logo by Travis McHale

Related Stories:

TERMINAL MADNESS. WHAT IS AIRPORT SECURITY?

GUNS AT THE CHECKPOINT. SHOULD TSA GUARDS BE ALLOWED TO CARRY WEAPONS?

WILL WE EVER MOVE THE SECURITY CONVERSATION PAST THE SHADOW OF 9/11?

 

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19 Responses to “TSA to Expand Precheck Program”
  1. Filipe says:

    That is an old TSA logo; it hasn’t been part of the DOT since 2003.

  2. SirWired says:

    Patrick, FYI, Pre-Check has been open to anyone for quite a while now; you just had to apply for (and be accepted for) Global Entry (which is open to anyone with a passport.) You could then become eligible for Pre-Check for no additional charge.

    Yes, this was kind of roundabout, and Global Entry had a $100 fee (but the $85 Pre-Check fee was waived), but it was a useful way to gain Pre-Check clearance without needing to get an invite from an airline.

    Really, given how bad customs lines can be, if you are wanting Pre-Check and travel internationally at all, you might as well pony up for Global Entry instead… the extra $15 can more than pay for a single missed connection because customs held you up.

  3. Johnny Rogers says:

    Agreed. The so-called “Underwear Bomber,” who had just returned from months in Yemen, had bought a one-way ticket from Nigeria and was traveling to Detroit in mid-winter without even a jacket. He should have been pulled over in Amsterdam. Oh, wait, he was Oh, and they let him board anyway. Oh, and his own father, a prominent businessman in the Nigerian community, had warned the US Embassy in Lagos that he was afraid his son was becoming Islamicized?

    Yeah, I’ll bet Precheck is going to save hundreds of planes from being blown up.

  4. Johnny Rogers says:

    This IS a joke, right? In Montreal, there’s a line for the “Nexus” elite. Frequently, especially for early morning flights, there is no one even there to accept any poor sod who thought he was somehow going to jump the queue. So what ends up happening is that said Nexus wannabe is left standing, usually all by himself, at the Nexus checkpoint, waiting for an agent who will never come, while the rest of us schlubs trudge through the Dull Normals line.

  5. JuliaZ says:

    I’m off for my Global Entry interview and fingerprinting next week… I agree with all you say about ways to make the process better but as all-too-often SLF, I am interested in reducing the pain to me through any means.

    Has anyone else noticed that TSA staffers have been friendlier lately? I don’t know if they have an official “be nice” campaign on, but I’ve observed screeners at SEA, DCA, BWI, and DFW all being much more relaxed than I would expect, smiling at children and being genuinely helpful to older people.

    The only grump I’ve encountered in the past two months was at SFO, where a screener refused to allow my family to PreCheck together because only the 5- and 14-year olds had PreCheck on their boarding passes (the security area was nearly empty so it wasn’t an issue of load balancing; she was just being nasty). Like I’m going to ask a 5-year old to go through a completely separate line without me and expect that that will end well!

  6. Caz says:

    Why is the underwear bomber incident referred to as a Northwest Airlines flight when it had Delta livery at the time?

    Completely off topic, but just curious…

  7. Elizabeth Matheson says:

    I was “gifted” with this lovely service by someone (my airline?) during my last trip a month ago.

    At DFW, I got to keep my shoes on. Didn’t have any liquids and no laptop with me.

    Coming back home, at CLT, they did not have the TSA Pre-Check line. So, I had to go through the same screening as everyone else.

    I’ll keep my $85.00.

  8. Simon says:

    Because it was NW flight 253. Despite the livery and the fact hat it was already one year after the DL-NW merger, it was still technically a NW flight.

    It was also a former NW aircraft (a sexy A333), N820NW.

  9. Nick says:

    Is the eagle in the logo holding its breath to fit into an economy seat?

  10. Johnny Rogers says:

    The continuing use of the eagle as an American icon is badly outdated. What, let me guess: America is a Bird of Prey, hunting down small rodents from the air with superhuman eyes — no, sorry, that’s the DRONES. Okay then, it’s a symbol of our soaring above earthly concerns, merely keeping watch for the Earth and preventing wrongdoers — no, that can’t be right!

    It’s a representation of the all-seeing, all-knowing Eye in the Sky that can spot potential trouble and annihilate it before it gets too close to our borders . . . hey! Now we’re getting somewhere!

    NO, but it’s not quite that; let’s return to the Bird of Prey concept, rooting out our enemies wherever they might be hiding their verminous selves, spotting their beady eyes from ten thousand feet and then swooping in for the kill with air siren shrieking all the way down . . . YES!

    But that was done with far more graphic iconography and downright style by err . . let me see now . . . well, Hugo Boss had something to do with it . . . and the eagle was flat and angular, not wimpy and curvy . . . and it sat in stylized silver splendor above the shade of a certain black cap named a Schirmm├╝tze which was sometimes field grey — Feldgrau, that’s it! or just plain black, which was kind of for high ranking TSA members . . . no, sorry, SA members.

    Now THAT was a nice-looking eagle. And very appropriate for the TSA, don’t you think?

  11. Ian says:

    The foolishness is not restricted to American airports. This past October at the Frankfurt airport my nylon web belt with a plastic buckle set off the scanning wand and had to be put through the X-ray, as did a paper tissue [think Kleenex] in my pants pocket. Do they not calibrate these things? Meanwhile the surgical pins in my previously broken arm have never set off an alarm.

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  13. Karen says:

    I was subjected to a patdown recently because I had left my fitbit (pedometer) clipped on my jean pocket. The agent was very suspicious and I had to demonstrate how it shows steps, stairs climbed, etc. Then she had it sent back thru xray by itself. I should mention that at another airport I sailed thru wearing the fitbit and wasnt even asked to remove my shoes. I don’t understand how an agent has never seen or received training on a pedometer.

  14. Randall says:

    At many airports, the TSA now randomly assigns about half the passengers to Pre-Check anyway. The problem is, no one bothers to explain to them what Pre-Check is, so these passengers undress and unpack as if it’s just another line. As a result, Pre-Check is now often longer and slower than regular lines.

  15. Tom Hill says:

    Great. Now someone with bombs in their shoes can pay 85/100 dollars and get on board with greater ease. And why should only those who can afford this (a group to which I belong)be treated this way.

  16. Stefan G. says:

    Thank you, but I don’t want any rude, incompetent TSA idiots on European airports, we do just fine without them.

    I fly to the US occasionally and have witnessed several times what happens when you give potential food stamp collectors a uniform.

    It is amazing what we as passengers are willing to accept for the sake of flying, what we (as tax payers) are willing to spend on agencies like TSA (is there one successful case that showed they are worth all these billions?) and the humiliation we voluntarily endure.

    I wish someone would finally invent that transporter thingy from Start Trek.

    • Patrick says:

      Well that’s not quite what I was saying. If TSA staff were to be redeployed overseas, it wouldn’t be to collect hobby knives and knitting needles. It’d be to do some of the smarter and more effective things I’ve recommended.

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