A program that lets preapproved air travelers zip through faster security lines will be expanded this year to 35 of the nation’s largest airports, Transportation Security Administration officials announced Wednesday.
The pilot program, dubbed PreCheck, lets travelers who get TSA clearance avoid what have become the most annoying steps of post-9/11 screening: removing shoes, belt and coats.
PreCheck has been tested for several months with frequent travelers who fly with several major airlines at seven airports. Nationwide, it has already been used to screen 336,000 passengers.
Among the airports being added to the program are Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Portland International Airport.
To get approved to participate, passengers must be U.S. citizens and must share background information such as gender and date of birth with the TSA.
Passengers interviewed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where the program will be offered this year, had mixed feelings. Some travelers said they would have no trouble giving the government background information if it meant saving time at the airport terminal.
“If it’s more efficient, and the general public can’t obtain the information, I couldn’t care what the screener knows,” said Andrew Goldberg, a patent and trademark worker who was flying to Greenville, S.C.
But others worried that the program may make air travel more vulnerable to terrorists.
“A lot of people will get away with a lot of stuff because they’ll be considered low-risk,” said Stacey Morris, who was flying to Miami for a vacation. “It’s not safe. It’s not a good idea. They should scratch it out of their heads.”
The expansion is part of the TSA’s efforts to spend less time scrutinizing low-risk, frequent passengers to free up resources to stop travelers who pose a serious threat to airline safety.
TSA Administrator John Pistole said the PreCheck program and a similar effort for international travelers, called Global Entry, will help make the TSA screening process more efficient.
“We are pleased to expand this important effort, in collaboration with our airline and airport partners, as we move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more intelligence-driven, risk-based transportation security system,” he said.
Travelers who already submit background information to participate in a frequent flier program with American and Delta airlines may be invited by those airlines to participate in PreCheck. If passengers agree, the airlines would share the background data with the TSA.
United, US Airways and Alaska airlines are expected to join the program this year.
Another way for travelers to participate in PreCheck is to go to the website www.globalentry.gov, provide background information, pay $100 and receive an identification number that is submitted online when booking an airline ticket. The application also qualifies passengers for Global Entry, an expedited program for entering the country.
If travelers are cleared to participate in PreCheck, an embedded code in the passenger’s boarding pass will tell TSA officials at participating airports that the passenger qualifies to use a special expedited security line.
At the faster security lines, passengers don’t have to remove their shoes, coats or belts and can keep laptop computers and liquids in their carry-on luggage.