For a fee - or with a little luck - selected air travelers are sidestepping the security line in which they must remove their shoes, belt and pocket change while pulling their toiletries and laptops from carry-on bags.
For a fee — or with a little luck — selected air travelers are sidestepping the security line in which they must remove their shoes, belt and pocket change while pulling their toiletries and laptops from carry-on bags.
PreCheck lines, opened in most airports late last year, offer streamlined screening for chosen travelers. At Port Columbus, about 35 to 40 percent of passengers are being directed to the faster screening, a TSA spokesman said.
To date, many travelers have been chosen through processes that federal officials won’t fully detail.
But on Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration will open an office to offer PreCheck certification to qualified applicants. The program doesn’t guarantee participants access to the faster screening but will increase their chances of selection.
The cost: $85 a person.
The enrollment center, at 2700 E. Dublin-Granville Rd., will take in-person applications for the program.
People who provide the proper identification and fingerprints, clear a background check and pay the fee receive a personal identification number to use when making airline reservations. The certification must be renewed every five years.
PreCheck participants and their carry-ons still pass through metal detectors, and their checked luggage is still run through the standard process, said Mark Howell, a spokesman for the regional office of the TSA, which administers PreCheck.
“We’re not going to sacrifice security,” he said. “We’re just trying to get away from one-size-fits-all screening and go to a risk-based screening.”
PreCheck members receive special boarding passes that greatly improve their chances of a quick trip through security, Howell said.
But even some travelers who don’t obtain certification might be selected for the PreCheck line.
Passengers can be selected in one of three ways:
• By joining the PreCheck paid program.
• Through a special TSA program that prints special PreCheck boarding passes using frequent-flier programs and existing (secret) security formulas to identify low-risk passengers.
• Through identification by TSA officers at airports who deem certain passengers to be low-risk on sight.
Ann Silverman of Dublin said she was chosen for PreCheck on five flights traveling to and from Hawaii in December.
“I don’t know why,” Silverman said. “Just dumb luck, I guess. It just showed up on my boarding pass when we printed it out.”
Unfortunately, her husband didn’t get the special PreCheck designation for all of the flights even though they had booked their tickets together.
“My husband had to go through the regular line, so I got through quicker, but I had to stop and wait for him.”
Silverman said she appreciated being able to keep her shoes and jacket on but wouldn’t pay $85 for the privilege.
“If you get through, but then have to wait 30 minutes for the rest of the group, it’s just not worth it. Until they get their act together and can put whole groups through, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Children ages 12 or younger and senior citizens ages 75 or older will be allowed to go through PreCheck as long as they are traveling with an adult who has PreCheck approval, Howell said.
Robert Poole, an adviser on the Government Accountability Office’s aviation panel, questions the effectiveness of PreCheck.
Poole, also the director of transportation policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, supports risk-based airport security screening and was an early member of the PreCheck program.
But he doubts the wisdom of the current rapid expansion of the program. TSA officials have said they hope to have as many as 50 percent of passengers participate in PreCheck before the end of 2014, Poole said.
Poole especially takes issue with the visual screening of passengers for PreCheck inclusion. Such screening is based on nothing more than hunches and is not backed by scientific evidence of effectiveness, he said.
Poole also notes that passengers who are pulled from the regular security line for PreCheck often need special instructions not to remove shoes and laptops and the like, causing delays in the very lines designed for swift movement.
For information on the PreCheck program, including how to apply, call 1-855-347-8371 or visit tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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