TSA to eliminate freebies in Pre-Check lanes


Let’s face it, TSA’s PreCheck program is an attempt to move back to the days before 9/11 of a simpler, easier, faster way through airport security. The goal, according to John Pistole, TSA Administrator, is to have more and more lanes devoted to PreCheck, so more customers can experience the expedited screening process.

The big difference today is that should a terrorist make it through the terrorist watch list they have skirted more than a dozen layers of security. In effect, TSA’s actions are an acknowledgement that the real security checks are taking place prior to passengers getting to the airport.

Airport security checks are more for show and proof to the public that they are being protected by their government. These security checks also serve as an important cover-your-ass protection for elected officials who generously fund them.

As TSA has been publicizing its PreCheck program and selling it aggressively, it has also been shifting many passengers into these pre-check lanes from the normal whole-body-scanner lanes.

For the past six months stories have been popping up in the media about passengers getting something for nothing, being treated the same as those who have forked out money to get special treatment. PreCheck-enrolled passengers have been grousing and journalists have been spreading their gripes about how “unjust” this is and how it has been slowing down what should be a rapid pre-check experience when “rookies” are thrust into the no-liquids-out-of-the-bag, no-computers-out, no-shoes-off world of pre-check.

The attitude is that these passengers being whisked through the pre-check lanes without paying for the privilege is unfair to those who paid.

Soon those days of sending randomly selected passengers through pre-check will be over, according to TSA. Their sales pitch has been good enough to entice more and more passengers to pay. Plus, the terrorist watch list and no-fly list has been growing and is becoming trusted.

According to a report from the New York Times, TSA officials say that around 45 percent of all domestic travelers receive Pre-Check; enough to consider the program established and to dial back the number of non-enrolled passengers granted access to the quick-pass lanes.

In fact, the program reached a daily record in July with just more than 1 million of the 2.1 million passengers screened by the agency receiving PreCheck.

“We’ll start pulling back on the number of people who we include on a random, managed-inclusion basis, because we want to, frankly, cater to those who have actually signed up, and who we have the highest confidence in because we know the most about them,” John Pistole, TSA Administrator tells the Times.

That’s probably a welcome change of pace for the 440,000 travelers who actually paid for the PreCheck perks, but routinely find their lines clogged by passengers without knowledge of fast lane etiquette.

These changes at TSA airport checkpoints don’t come in a vacuum. Before TSA allows passengers into the program, they put through an individual security background check. This check, combined with the robust no-fly list and terrorist watch list, are the real keys to security.

Forty-seven thousand people were on the no-fly list in 2013, marking an all-time high that dwarfs the amount ever included during George W. Bush’s presidency, according to an analysis of newly released classified documents published Tuesday by The Intercept. In addition, a “selectee list,” used to pull out travelers for heightened scrutiny at airports and border crossings, has grown larger than 16,000 people, including 1,200 Americans.

The classified documents also show that 680,000 people are listed in a much larger Terrorist Screening Database that federal authorities share with local law enforcement, private contractors, and foreign governments.

The bottom line: Better background checks together with an expanded no-fly list, combined with more than half-a-million passengers signing up, and paying for, pre-check, is making it possible to scale back the temporary random pre-check programs that TSA has been operating. Then again, note that nothing in the federal government changes quickly. These changes will be gradually rolled out airport by airport.

Should TSA Pre-check be limited to only those who pay and get additional background checks?

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  • Ribit

    Random assignment to Pre-Check is a massive security exposure.

    For example, Criminally-Intent-Person shows up at the airport with some kind of dangerous item that might get caught in the regular screening but might be bypassed in the reduced Pre-Check screening. The Criminally-Intent-Person gets a boarding pass. If assigned to the regular line, this person goes to the restroom and dumps the dangerous item. If randomly assigned to the Pre-Check line this person tries to make it through the screening.

    Random assignment to Pre-Check should never occur.

  • Susan Richart

    “Random assignment to Pre-Check is a massive security exposure.”

    No it’s not. Pistole himself has said that his vaunted Behavior Detection Officers choose those to send to the PreCheck line based on observation.

    If you believe that, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell to you.

  • Bob Stocking

    Won’t we eventually see a third option? Another way to gracefully move away from the current scan-and-shoes-off theater is to randomly assign non-Pre-check passengers to a faster lane without “clogging” the current Pre-check lanes. Slowly moving more people to such a system would speed up lines while protecting those willing to pay to avoid “losing” in the lottery.

  • Marilyn

    A friend I travel with frequently has been encouraging me to sign up for the pre-check, but because my home airport is set up so that the security lines are never really long as they are in other airports and because I am a leisure traveler so not flying all the time, I have not invested in the pre-check service. However, in July I was one of those randomly chosen to go through the pre-check, probably because I was traveling with my granddaughter. The experience showed me that the pre-check is not that advantageous for someone like me who has to be screened because of my artificial knees. I still had to undergo the pat-down. Being in pre-check might have shaved off 10 minutes of my security line time. If I had only a short time to make my flight, that 10 minutes might have meant something but as it was, it only meant a little extra time to kill past security. I will have to see a greater advantage before I pay for the pre-check. I understand why those who have paid are irritated when they see people like me selected without having paid.

  • pauletteb

    Are the people who paid for PreCheck also grousing about all those passengers who got “free” passage because of their frequent flier status with a particular airline? Sounds like more of the “I fly First/Business Class so I’m better than you” philosophy. Whatever gets me through the checkpoint the fastest is fine with me!

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Pre-Check is the embodiment of “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Pathetic that people are willing to fork over extortion money in an attempt to buy back their rights, and hilarious when that effort turns out to be in vain.

    As thousands of Pre-Check people can attest, Pre-Check doesn’t guarantee anything. Even the TSA admits on its website, “No individual is guaranteed expedited screening.” But then, we’ve only been pointing this out for over two years now.

    As for John Pistole, paraphrasing Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman, every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie, including “and” and “the”.

  • Amy Alkon

    Lisa Simeone is exactly right. This is like that old joke about whether someone would prostitute themselves for $1 million…and well, how about $10? It keeps us arguing about the wrong thing, and keeps our attention off the essential issue: That our government crumples up the Constitution at the airport door, searching travelers sans probably cause. And who is doing the searching? Not the highly trained FBI agent who — by telephone — stopped the Millennium bombing plot at LAX when he realized a guy with a Montreal baptismal certificate wouldn’t have a French-Algerian accent. No, these are repurposed Cinnabon workers who put on a security puppet show that provides little actual security (just ask the 62-year-old woman who snuck past their “security” a few times). Meanwhile, Americans stand blinking like livestock and quibbling about who gets in which line as the are being slid along a continuum to a police state.

  • Susan Richart

    So 500,000 people have signed up for Pre-Check, allegedly. Is that 500,000 people who have paid $85, or does it include Global Entry and other programs which allow use of PreCheck?

    It doesn’t seem to me that, with the total numbers of those people who fly each year, 500,000 is a significant number.

    Methinks that if the TSA puts only those “authorized” to use PreCheck into those lanes, then there are, at any give time, going to be only a very few people in those lines.

    Also, I’d like to know how many people the TSA tricked into buying into PreCheck through random selection. I’d wager that not that many people fell for the trick.

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