The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) knows that the careful screening of passengers at airport checkpoints is a bit of overkill. They know that if a terrorist makes it to the airport and as far as the TSA checkpoint with a bomb, more than a score of security systems have been bypassed. When they randomly shift passengers into the Pre-Check program, they are admitting the obvious.
Unfortunately, even with evidence that the screening systems at airports are little more than a charade, TSA is forced to maintain its programs because our elected officials are afraid of being logical. They are afraid that something will happen “on their watch” and they will be blamed.
Fortunately, TSA is run by an administrator who recognizes reality and who has been ratcheting back the invasiveness of searches and who even attempted to eliminate small knives, certain martial arts items and some sporting equipment from the TSA forbidden list. His common sense was met with hysteria from flight attendants who were backed up by pilots and eventually many politicians.
Hence, Administrator Pistole’s brave decision to remove items from the forbidden item list that could not bring a plane down was reversed.
In testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and later in radio interviews, I proposed and then defended TSA’s decisions, to no avail. Security theater ultimately won out over real useful security procedures.
Today, TSA is still moving in the direction of more functional and realistic searches of passengers at airports by expanding their Pre-Check program that really rolls airport security back to pre-9/11. The TSA move is backed up by the realistic assessment that enhanced security and the terrorist watch list has made the airport pat-downs all but unnecessary.
Cleverly, TSA has established a Pre-Check background investigation to act as a fig leaf to placate fearful politicians and quiet worried flight attendants. This background investigation, however, only covers a small minority of passengers who pass through Pre-Check every day. Most of the Pre-Check passengers are made up of airline elite frequent fliers who qualify because of their frequent flier status. Some come from Global Entry rolls and others pay for Pre-Check; both go through the TSA background checks.
Even with these elite passengers who have slowly become accustomed to Pre-Check, TSA wants to move more passengers through the low-grade search lines. It has been reported that ultimately, TSA plans to shift up to 70 percent of its searches through Pre-Check lines.
In reality, the behind-the-scene screening that is conducted by more than a dozen security organizations means that every passenger in the country is “pre-checked.” Therefore, TSA has been randomly shifting passengers into the Pre-Check lanes and mixing them with the elite frequent fliers and Global Entry members who have already enjoyed unfettered access to Pre-Check.
This shift has not made everyone happy. The entitled elite frequent fliers have been grumbling because of “more crowded lanes.” Global Entry and Pre-Check members who paid money are expressing a bit of remorse for forking over a C-note or so for a special lane, only to find it crowded with bewildered passengers who insist on taking off their shoes even as TSA workers urge then through metal detectors.
The influx of people to Precheck annoys some program veterans. Ann Fries says she sometimes finds 20 people in the Precheck line at Tampa, Fla., her home airport. Many get befuddled when told they don’t have to take off their shoes and can leave liquids and laptops in bags. They ask why, slowing the line. Then they ask how they ended up in that lane.
“We went from people who knew what they were doing to people in line who don’t know what they are doing,” said Ms. Fries, who signed up for Global Entry to get Precheck when it first started.
There may be some growing pains, but TSA is moving in the right direction. The more passengers who move through Pre-Check, the better the overall experience will be for the flying public. With almost 600 lanes dedicated to Pre-Check at more than 110 airports across the country, TSA has a selling job and an education job with America’s fliers.
The more that experience Pre-Check, it is hoped, the more that will pony up the additional money to go through the extra screening. That will mean that, eventually, the random shifting of passengers without background checks will end as the lanes fill with paying customers.
TSA’s real efforts should be to move as many passengers through this expedited screening. After all, we are all Pre-Screened and we all pay our taxes in addition to TSA security fees that just have been more than doubled in many cases. There is no reason that TSA can’t keep the Pre-Check lanes filled and keep our skies safe and sound.