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TSA Launches Faster 'PreCheck' Security Lines, But There's a Catch

October 5, 2011 at 3:50 PM | by | ()

TSA has been a veritable mad scientist's laboratory of experiments lately, all aimed—depending on how cynical you are—either at improving security, getting the public to stop whining about intrusive security measures, or some combination of the two (hint: it's some combination of the two).

They're going out of their way not to pat down babies, they're launching Israeli-style security screenings, they're rolling out gingerbread man scanners, and now they're launching a new program to speed frequent fliers through security. Ambitious!

The new program, dubbed PreCheck, is in its pilot phase at ATL, MIA, DFW, and DTW. Selected frequent fliers who shared their information with TSA before they arrived at the airport are being offered—in exchange—a line that allows them get through screening much more quickly. It's kind of "basic trade-off," as the Associated Press writeup so eloquently puts it.

The criteria used to select PreCheck eligible passengers has been left intentionally vague. From what public reports indicate, TSA went to American Airlines and Delta and said "give us some names of your low-risk frequent fliers," i.e. members who were obviously business travelers. We're imagining that American and Delta then asked for permission to release that information—and least that better be how it happened—and then TSA compiled their lists. The agency then turned around and asked those fliers whether they'd want to voluntarily join the PreCheck program.

The PreCheck lines are still fairly new so details are scarce, and obviously TSA has an interest in keeping people guessing about security measures. The official press release says PreCheck passengers "will experience expedited screening" while still being subject to "random and unpredictable security measures." So you get to keep your shoes on, but you might still get pulled aside for happy patdowns, and the upshot is that you have to share a bunch of personal details beforehand? It'll be interesting to see if non-frequent travelers, who get less benefit from faster lines because they use them less often, will think the tradeoff is worth it. Or if they're ever even offered the chance.

Here's a CBS report on the program:

[Photo: CBS News]

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