New TSA PreCheck Program: How Good Is It?

TSA’s new “trusted traveler” program, known as PreCheck, went into effect a few days ago. From the press release, “Eligible passengers may be referred to a lane where they will experience expedited screening.” This pilot program is the long overdue beginning of risk-based traveler assessment. Not surprising, there are many limitations to gain entry into this trial program:

  • It is only available to American Airlines and Delta Airlines passengers.
  • It is only limited to a few airport hubs (Dallas and Miami for American, Atlanta and Detroit for Delta).
  • And only some frequent fliers qualify.

TSA also built in some safeguards. They may at any time change their policy and make this separate line just like all the others. In addition, they do not guarantee that merely because of enrollment in this program that passengers will receive expedited service every time. At some point, I expect them to test this by denying access on a periodic basis. How frequently this occurs will likely determine the program’s success or failure.

I had the opportunity to try out PreCheck last week. Embedded information in the boarding pass barcode directs travelers to an expedited line. Anything metal like change or cellphones are either placed in a carry-on bag or one of the small buckets. Everything else – liquids, shoes, belts, coats, and laptops – remain in the carry-on bag or on your person. It was simply a matter of dropping my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt and walking through the metal detector.  Total time to get through the expedited line: less than 60 seconds.

Needless to say, this is a dream for frequent travelers. It was such a pleasant experience that I thought about exiting the security area and going through the line again!

Some frequent travelers I spoke to expressed apprehension, reminding me that one bad apple could ruin this for the lot of us. We would all still walk through security with our shoes on if it weren’t for Richard Reid.

While other passengers may resent this “special” treatment granted to a select few, there is a benefit for them, as well. Moving frequent travelers to expedited lines means shorter lines for everyone else. When this program is successful (crossing my fingers), it will expand to more airports and shorten security lines for even more travelers.

Here’s hoping that the TSA’s new PreCheck program really takes off!

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  1. Right now, the issue is the lanes are way underutilized. And worse, when I passed through DFW, in the ‘regular’ non-PreCheck lanes, only the AIT machines were operational. Regular metal detector was closed, causing a major backup.

    Also I overhead conversation snippets and believe I heard two TSOs talking about the fact that they will run the pilot for a month, and if successful will (a) keep PreCheck, (b) close non-AIT machines in non-PreCheck lines, and (c) end the opt-out provision for non-AIT machines.

  2. I wonder how they will handle parties where one person is a Trusted Traveller and the other say, a spouse, is not? It might take one person 60 seconds to go through the Pre-check but their companion 10, 15, ?? minutes to go through the regular lines.

  3. Good point. I’m sure the non-trusted traveller, even though a spouse, must go through the regular security lanes. I have the Clear card to speedier security in Orlando. When traveling with my family, I’ll instead go through the regular lanes with them as I’d rather spend the time with my family then get through security faster and have to wait for them alone on the other side.

  4. Interesting experience to the say the least. I just went through the line in Atlanta’s South Terminal line. It took about 90 seconds. I kept my shoes on. The laptop, iPad, belt, and jacket all stayed in place. It felt odd.

    I was politely asked by a Delta agent standing outside of the security area for my boarding pass. When she scanned it she said “you’ve been cleared.”. For a Platinum traveler on Delta, it was amazing. But as I was on the train to my gate, my brain started thinking about some questions:

    1) what info did Delta give to the TSA?
    2) if the pilot fails, what happens to that data?
    3) I dont recall being asked by Delta to “volunteer” (could have deleted the email or thrown out the snail mail)

    I guess in the times we live in, these are questions I’ll just have to deal with. Hopefully the security line experience is improved for all. Because I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty awesome experience.

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