Getting Through Security Faster with TSA PreCheck – Review and Report

By Jonathan Spira on 18 July 2012
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In Detroit, PreCheck is to the left

Recently, I arrived at LaGuardia Airport and experienced an entirely new world of airport security.  I left my shoes and belt on, my laptop remained in its case (I already had been doing a variation on this since I carry a Tumi checkpoint-friendly case), and I didn’t have to remove any liquids from my bag

I was experiencing the latest in airport security, TSA PreCheck.

Not too long ago, airports were barrier free.  Anyone could stroll up to a gate and meet an arriving passenger, and no one asked you about the whereabouts of your luggage and packages.  Minimal security arrangements were in place.

Sign of the times at LaGuardia

That all changed in the early 1970s.  In December 1972, the Federal Aviation Administration began to require that all passengers and carry-on luggage be screened for possible weapons, effective at the beginning of 1973.

Today, almost everyone who flies is familiar with the ritual of removing one’s belt, shoes, laptop, jacket, and small bottles of liquid at a security checkpoint.

But there have been numerous complaints about airport security, so the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been making some subtle and not-so-subtle changes to its highly-criticized security procedures.  One change is to focus less on travelers with profiles that indicate they are unlikely to be a great security risk, such as the most frequent fliers.  (Other changes include less scrutiny for passengers 75 years of age and older, and 12 years of age or younger.)

PreCheck lane at LaGuardia’s Delta Terminal

To do this, the TSA worked with two airlines, American and Delta, to invite their top-tier fliers to opt in for the PreCheck trusted traveler program.  The TSA determines eligibility based on past flying patterns and other factors including citizenship (only U.S. citizens are eligible) and destination (typically, PreCheck is limited to domestic itineraries).   Children 12 years of age and under can accompany eligible (older) passengers through PreCheck.

For fliers who didn’t receive an invitation from their airline, an alternate point of entry was to be a member of trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry, Sentri, or Nexus, which are run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Last year I received invitations to participate from American and Delta, which I accepted. I’ve also been a member of Global Entry for several years.  However, until last month, I hadn’t yet flown out of the right airport on the right airline.

This is important because not every participating airline has PreCheck at every airport.  For example, Delta has PreCheck lanes at LaGuardia, but not at JFK, the airport I fly out of most often.

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