An idea long overdue in my opinion. The Wall Street Journal reports that a pilot program is already in place for two airlines at nine airports where you can skip the TSA nudie scans and gropings, zipping through the airport almost as fast as you did before 9/11. You can leave on your shoes, your belt, your coat and your hat. All you’ll have to do is go through a “pre-screening” background check process and sit down for an interview with an official. Oh, and there’s one other catch… it will cost you $100.
The Transportation Security Administration is rolling out expedited screening at big airports called “Precheck.” It has special lanes for background-checked travelers, who can keep their shoes, belt and jacket on, leave laptops and liquids in carry-on bags and walk through a metal detector rather than a full-body scan. The process, now at two airlines and nine airports, is much like how screenings worked before the Sept. 11 attacks.
To qualify, frequent fliers must meet undisclosed TSA criteria and get invited in by the airlines. There is also a backdoor in. Approved travelers who are in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “Global Entry” program can transfer into Precheck using their Global Entry number.
TSA says it also wants as many people as possible in Precheck, which is still in pilot-testing phase. Both agencies say the programs can enhance screening of people they know nothing about if they can move low-risk people who submit to background checks out of the main queues.
“We can reduce the size of the haystack when we are looking for that one-in-a-billion terrorist,” said TSA Administrator John Pistole.
When I went to renew my passport last year prior to a trip to Canada, I picked up a lot of useful information on this subject. But it also highlighted some opportunities which the government seemed to be overlooking. For example, you still don’t have to have a passport if you are driving into Canada, as opposed to flying. In Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington state, you can apply for an enhanced drivers license. This functions just like a regular license in terms of operating your vehicle and serving as valid ID for all your needs. But it also proves that you’ve had an extensive background check to determine that you’re unlikely to be plotting anything nasty. With one of those you can drive through into Canada without having to produce a passport.
Why not have a similar thing for flying, even if it’s only on domestic flights? And the TSA representative in the article makes a good point. The more travelers who get signed on to this program, the fewer people there will be waiting at the normal TSA screening stations, so everyone will make it through faster. Sounds like a winning plan to me, at least as a short to medium term solution. The only question is… one hundred bucks? Are you willing to pay the government that much for the privilege of getting through the airport faster? While I understand there may be some resentment, I have to admit… I might be doing it.