Last Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced the expansion of PreCheck, an expedited screening initiative currently being used at seven U.S. airports, to an additional 28 airports across the country. PreCheck allows approved fliers to pass through a specially designated security lane where they undergo expedited screening, which could include no longer removing their shoes, TSA-approved liquids placed in carry-ons, laptops, jackets, and belts. According to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, “The expansion of [the program] to the nation’s busiest airports will increase our security capabilities and expedite the screening process for travelers we consider our trusted partners.”
Anyone who has recently traveled by air within the U.S., probably shares my frustration about the inconveniences of air travel these days, in particular the irritating process of going through airport security. As such, many travelers will surely welcome this announcement of a more efficient screening process. According to a TSA spokeswoman, more than 300,000 passengers in the PreCheck program have gone through faster screening since it was launched last October. “The people who've been through the program are very pleased with it…that’s why we’re expanding,” the spokeswoman stated. I welcome this initiative, but regret that it’s still very limited in its span. Even though PreCheck is expanding in terms of number of airports providing this option, the pre-screening program is available only to a limited number of travelers. If its expansion this year shows that it continues to be successful, I’d like to see it become a wider movement — maybe even one to be followed by transportation security authorities in other countries — that benefits many more fliers and will make traveling by air less of a hassle than it currently is.
According to its website, “TSA is partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as well as U.S. carrier as a part of this pre-flight screening initiative. Certain frequent flyers from Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and certain members of the CBP’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS who are U.S. citizens are eligible to participate.” Based on these restricted eligibility criteria, it could almost be argued that the program discriminates against those who don’t have the privilege of being frequent fliers, and towards non-U.S. citizens. On the other hand, since the program is hosted in the United States, I think I understand that it is probably easier for the government to start by screening its own citizens, given it already has access to much of their information (like it or not).
The TSA claims that this expedited screening increases security, “allowing TSA agents to focus efforts on passengers the agency knows less about while providing expedited screening for travelers who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying.” It aims to appease those concerned that this initiative might rather increase the threat of security risks by relaxing the screening of “trusted partners” (i.e. somebody who has been preapproved to go through expedited screening plans to bring a liquid explosive on board assuming that the liquids in his/her carry-on won’t be checked) with the assurance that, “TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening in order to retain a certain element of randomness to prevent terrorists from gaming the system.”
If, as the TSA claims, expedited screening does indeed increase security, it seems that it would make perfect sense to expand the program even further to allow more passengers to volunteer said information. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I would happily agree to provide certain personal information ahead of a trip in exchange for not having to take off my shoes and coat, find my laptop, and do everything else that is nowadays required from us when going through airport security. Yet like so many others, I don’t meet all eligibility requirements.
Ultimately, expedited screening will likely alleviate the burden on the “regular” screening lines, and as such this should also benefit the average flier. If the initiative continues to prove successful, I hope the eligibility criteria will be broadened — always without compromising security — and hopefully more travelers will be able to take advantage of it in the not-too-distant future. I can’t imagine that the experience of flying will ever be what it was before 9/11 (not only in the U.S., but all around the world), but even little things can make a difference.
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