Review: TSA’s PreCheck expedited screening program
Even occasional readers of this blog will know that I’m a harsh critic of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And rightfully so; the agency’s authoritarian attitude and relentless violations of travelers’ rights are legend. However that is not to say that the TSA can’t do anything right. In fact, its PreCheck screening program is a quantum leap in the right direction.
What is PreCheck?
PreCheck is a program that allows travelers to receive expedited and less invasive screening at participating airports. It is a “known traveler” program, where passengers must provide information about themselves in order to qualify. There is no application to join PreCheck, so it’s not a typical government program in that sense. Currently there are two ways to participate: allow your airline to share information about your travel history with the TSA, or join a Department of Homeland Security border crossing program such as Global Entry or Nexus. Members of the armed forces may also participate.
The TSA takes the information you’ve chosen to share, analyzes it along with the details of your flight itinerary and other threat indicators, and determines on a per-itinerary basis if you qualify for less invasive screening. If you do, you’ll receive a much quicker and smoother screening experience at the airport. Unlike formal programs, PreCheck is not guaranteed; anecdotal evidence suggests that it works about 80 percent of the time. If you don’t qualify for a particular itinerary you will receive standard TSA screening. PreCheck currently only works for itineraries that are entirely within the United States.
If you qualify for PreCheck, you’ll know as soon as the TSA agent scans your boarding pass. One beep means standard screening, while three beeps indicates that you are eligible for PreCheck, which has its own dedicated screening lane. The screening is reminiscent of pre-9/11 airport security; there are no naked scanners, you keep your shoes, coat and belt on, laptops stay in your bag. The only vestige of post-9/11 America is that liquids are still limited to three ounces or less, though these can stay inside your luggage during screening. As PreCheck is an “opt in” program and is still in its pilot phase, the lines are usually very short.
PreCheck is a Godsend for travelers sick of being harassed by TSA stupidity. Personally I’m not keen to share my travel history with the TSA, as I don’t trust the agency, so I use my Global Entry ID number to qualify. Applying for Global Entry costs $100 (and has its own benefits) and there’s little in the application that the government doesn’t already know.
The main objection to PreCheck is that all travelers should receive this sensible and expedited screening. While I agree (remember, TSA has caught exactly zero terrorists since its inception) I’m also weary of trying to persuade people that the TSA is defecating on the Constitution every day. Ignorance reigns, and if those who support any action to “keep us safe” want to subject themselves to the TSA’s violations, so be it. You’ll find me in the PreCheck line with my shoes on and dignity intact.
Participating airlines and airports
This list is growing rapidly, but at present Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways participate in PreCheck. Not every airport with PreCheck offers it for each participating airline, so check with your carrier or with the TSA. At present, the following airports are set up for PreCheck for at least one airline, with many more to come before the end of 2012:
New York – LaGuardia
New York – JFK
Salt Lake City
Washington – Reagan National
[Note: Is it The Savvy Traveler's policy not to link to the TSA website. Check there for the most current list of participating airlines and airports.]