Experiencing TSA’s PreCheck Expedited Screening Program (Guest Post)

Government Regulation, Guest Posts

One reader has had the chance to experience the TSA’s PreCheck program. Here’s an update on things along with his experiences using the program.

Tired of waiting behind the unwashed masses which never seem to be able to separate themselves from their bottled water, belts, liquids and shoes at security checkpoints? If you’ve put off submitting an application for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler program, you now have another reason to stop procrastinating.

The TSA has opened expedited screening lanes at several major airports around the country. The “PreCheck” program started with a limited trial at selected locations last October at DFW, Atlanta, Miami, and Detroit. Originally open only to top-tier American and Delta Air Lines passengers who were already members of one of the CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs, PreCheck has now been expanded to include any passenger who holds Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS approvals to enter the country.

More than 140,000 travelers have already been screened at the pilot checkpoints. The program was expanded recently to include passengers traveling on Delta from Minneapolis/St. Paul, American from Los Angeles International, and both carriers from Las Vegas McCarran. In January, US Airways Passengers will be able participate in the program at McCarran. United elite travelers will be invited to join in at some point in 2012 – approval is pending merger of Continental and United’s information systems are combined.

I’d been invited to join PreCheck last October as an American Airlines Premier Executive qualifying traveler. A last minute change of plans recently left me scrambling to catch a flight out of Miami on a stormy and congested Sunday night. Taking the finally-opened airport people-mover from the centralized car rental facility (a pleasant surprise), I checked in at an American kiosk and proceeded to the elite line at the airport’s D-Gates. After my boarding pass was scanned, I was directed to a nearly empty security line – another surprise – as I had been approved for expedited security screening.

Once at the screening checkpoint, I was told I did not need to take off my shoes, remove my belt, or my light jacket in order to pass through the screening device. I did not have to remove my “3-1-1” liquids from my carry-on bag, but I did have to remove my computer from the non-compliant bag. I was through security in under a minute, and on my way to the gate in time to download email before departure.

Qualifying for the Global Entry program requires applicants go through a fairly rigorous screening process in exchange for the right to bypass long immigration and customs lines at US International Airports. Anyone who has the correct credentials can now opt in to the PreCheck program by entering their clearance code in their airline’s security profile – as it is no longer necessary to hold top tier status once CBP approval has been attained.

According to US Transportation Security Administrator Joe Pistole, better information about travelers helps the TSA to say “Now, we don’t have to treat each person as a putative terrorist,” according to a report in Bloomberg Businessweek.

While I usually feel most TSA employees act professionally while doing a very difficult and demanding job, I have to admit to wondering if some screeners DO assume everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Traveling with my 88 year old father at Newark last fall, for example, pre-warning about his artificial hips and other ailments did little to lessen interrogation procedures which seemed inappropriate at best, and extreme considering his physical condition. Terrorist, indeed!

Gaining approval in a Trusted Traveler program is not an automatic procedure, even for those who travel abroad frequently. The process includes capture of fingerprints (done neatly and digitally) as well as an iris scan. For those concerned about information captured from the microchip contained in today’s US passports, questions of privacy may prove to be enough to discourage registration. But compared to biometric data collected by other countries, the tradeoff might seem less onerous – I have saved countless hours of standing in line at increasingly congested gateways. The PreCheck program was an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Applicants should also be aware they will be subjected to an extensive, face-to-face interview at one of the TSA’s International Airport Offices. I faced a 30-minute interview inquiring into my reasons for travel to over 50 countries in the past ten years. As a self-employed individual, I also had to supply a copy of my most recent tax return. An unfortunately, I paid my own registration fee before American Express announced it would reimburse its Platinum Card holders for the cost of the Global Entry program – where approval is valid for a period of five years.

Would I register today knowing how much information was eventually collected? Certainly! It should also be noted there is no guarantee any given passenger will not face more extensive random security checks, whether entitle to PreCheck or not. With as much as I travel, the benefits easily outweigh my concerns – and with PreCheck expanding throughout the country, I’m looking forward to more pleasant surprises.

Rob Lipman is Executive Vice President of Summit Management Services, an international meeting planning company specializing in pharmaceutical research and incentive programs. He logs approximately 200,000 miles a year and visits at least five continents annually. He is an avid Cranky Flier reader and professes to be in search of “new airline experiences” and the perfect flight.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

21 comments on “Experiencing TSA’s PreCheck Expedited Screening Program (Guest Post)

  1. All these ‘trusted’ traveler type programs mean is that terrorists can pass the requirements and make it easier for them. And as history has shown multi generational born Americas can do terrorist type actions just like anyone else in the world.

    You would think the last people the Feds would give easier access to are people who travel all over the world a lot and could be meeting underworld types and conducting illegal activities all while working for some big name company.

  2. I have to admit to wondering if some screeners DO assume everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Traveling with my 88 year old father at Newark last fall, for example, pre-warning about his artificial hips and other ailments did little to lessen interrogation procedures which seemed inappropriate at best, and extreme considering his physical condition. Terrorist, indeed!

    I always have to smile when I heard this analogy. And, I hear it on occasion in the security lines, “Do I look like a terrorist?” Would you have given Timothy McVeigh a second look, an AMERICAN VETERAN? Even in the Middle East, suicide bombers were male. That changed too. Look at airline employees, 99.999 percent are safety concious, but one gun-toting employee decided to take down a plane in a murder suicide scheme. Point being, anything can happen, by ANYONE.

  3. Global Entry saved my wife and I a good two hours returning from our recent trip to Thailand. Using the machine we were through customs in 5 minutes and home long before most people from our flight even cleared customs.

    I do have to comment on the “extensive, face-to-face interview at one of the TSA?s International Airport Offices”. When my wife and I had our interviews we were in and out in ten minutes and no tax forms were requested. I believe this may vary from city to city and be determined by how much international travel you have in the system. More than likely your level of scrutiny was due to the extensive international travel you do.

  4. Global Entry is fantastic. My wife and I went through the rigorous app process 3 yrs ago, and have used the new screening process. We feel like VIP’s again. The comment that all a terrorist needs to do is qualify for Global Entry seems a frivolous statement. Sitting in front of the steely eyed Homeland Security agents and getting questioned, is just where I want them!

    1. I don’t think its a frivolous statement, it’s very true that if someone can quality for this program they could be a terrorist or become one after. One isn’t born a terrorist after all.

      1. David – I’m more afraid (and more likely) to be killed by a car on the street than someone approved through the Global Entry pre-screening process and then them doing something bad on a plane. This saves time and money for both the government and individuals and is a logical step forward for all involved in travel. If you are so afraid of this and see this as a “security hole” I suggest you don’t fly.

        1. robert – FYI… I don’t think you thought you post through very hard. If we aren’t concerned about the threat of people that travel frequently all over the planet potentially meeting with the “bad guys”, why are we so concerned that little old ladies who travel once a year domestically pose such a big threat?

          Ultimately I think this is the largest problem with this program. The people who really do pose the least threat: children, little old ladies, etc. are the least likely to be included as “trusted.”

  5. I believe either TSA is not following the same procedure at all of the airports currently running this program or there is some other issue at hand. I personally know a colleague who is an executive platinum traveler and who has also met the million mile mark and yet has only benefited from this program once. Until they can crank out the kinks, people should not expect this program to be effective or without flaws.

    1. Only a few airport/airline/specific checkpoint combinations offer the program,
      Atlanta: T-South Checkpoint (Delta only)
      Dallas: Terminal C, Checkpoint C30 (American only)
      Detroit: Checkpoint 2 on the ticketing level (Delta only)
      Miami: D2 Checkpoint (American only)
      Las Vegas: D Gates First Class Checkpoint (American and Delta),

      Note: Not all airlines or all checkpoints at an airport offer the service, and you still must register your ticket for Pre ahead of travel so they can encode your boarding pass.

      And as TSA says, “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.”


  6. For the Global Entry program there is no “qualification”. If you pay the $100 fee and complete the form they send you an email saying that your preliminary review has been completed and you need to schedule an interview. Look up the location of the nearest airport or other interview site and schedule the interview online. Very easy process.

  7. Regarding security, the special lines for Precheck, Global, Nexus, and premium whatever can be useful. However, it could also shoehorn all these special people into one lane while allowing the general people to use 6-8 other lanes, making the general security faster. This of course depends on the airport and the terminal. For example, the DTW DL terminal and SFO T1 are fantastic for security; you can be done in 90 seconds.

    For immigration and customs, I agree these programs might be more useful (particularly for immigration).

  8. Does this program exempt you from the x-ray machines and let you go through the metal detector instead? If so, it would be well worth it for me.

  9. A couple corrections:

    the trusted traveler precheck program is NOT available to all travelers with Nexus or Global Entry cards. Only US citizens qualify at this time.

    And American Airlines doesn’t have a Premier Executive elite status – that would be United. :)

    Like Jim, I would like to know what “screening device” Rob had to go through with shoes, belt and jacket. My belt would set off the metal detector, so was it one of the nudeoscopes? (in which case I’d be in line for the pat down, thus not really saving any time).

  10. I used Pre Check over Thanksgiving at ATL. It was an amazing experience! As a former airline employee, I would say this was better than the Crew Lanes I have experienced.

    It is a standard Magnetometer (not a millimeter wave AIT), just set to a lower level.

    Having an AMEX Platinum is definately worth it for Global Entry and now Pre Check.

  11. To clarify, not all Platinum AMEX cards qualify for reimbursement of the $100 application fee. Personal Platinum cards and Delta’s Platinum card do not qualify, only Corporate Platinum cards.

    1. You don’t understand the process underway. If you boycott the airlines they will go out of business and your travel will be even more restricted. Read history and you will understand that Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration is coming to all other means of travel and highway check-points (static and mobile units). If you visit NYC and walk around Times Sq. you will likely be X-rayed by mobile X-Ray vans. The momentum is rolling towards an obvious end, and a warm, fuzzy feeling for Rob Lipman and other ‘patriot citizens’. Hail Victory!

  12. You did not mention if you still had to have your gonads irradiated. Did you? That is the only perk that would make me join this thing… Shoes and belts are a joke and I could care less about removing them. For Frequent Travelers, the full body scanners have been proven to 1.) Increase skin cancer risk over time. No matter how small, it does increase your risk. 2.) Damage DNA strands for MMWave machines, and 3.) Not be too effective in the long run with finding things on people.

  13. The requirement for American Airlines is flying 50,000 miles in one calender year to become Pre-check eligible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier