ATLANTA — A small group of frequent fliers began using lower-hassle security lines Tuesday in exchange for sharing more personal information with the government in a trial program at four U.S. airports.
The “PreCheck” program represents a big attempt by President Obama’s administration to move away from a one-size-fits-all security approach and toward a model that tailors passenger checks to what the government knows about them. It is being implemented after a public backlash and protest campaign last year over sometimes invasive pat-downs for travelers who refused to step inside full-body scanners.
The new program requires a basic trade-off. Passengers allow airlines or other government agencies to share their personal information with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration so they can be pre-screened before arriving at the airport. In return, passengers get a chance - not a guarantee - that they can move through faster lines and avoid removing their shoes, belts or light coats while keeping laptop computers and liquids in their travel bags.
If successful, the pilot program could spread beyond a small sliver of travelers and airports in Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and Dallas-Fort Worth.
The system’s opening run in Atlanta earned positive reviews from several of the passengers who used it, but it also illustrated that they won’t be immune to all traditional security procedures. They came to the same security checkpoint as other passengers, but were ushered to a specialized line. Rodney Berry of Atlanta praised the new system even though his bag got searched by hand at the end.
“It seems like it was faster, even though I got stopped,” said the 42-year-old who typically flies at least once a week.
“This program allows us to focus on individuals that we know a great deal about. And it allows us to apply these expedited processes to those individuals,” he said during a news conference at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “At the same time, it frees up resources for us to apply to individuals that we know less about and potentially pose a greater risk to aviation.”
The voluntary test program includes some travelers enrolled in Delta Air Lines’ and American Airlines’ frequent-flier programs or three government-run traveler programs, called Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI, at the four airports. Participants in the existing government programs undergo background checks and are interviewed by customs officials to get cards that allow them to pass through customs more quickly.
The new PreCheck program is very small. TSA officials estimate that somewhere from 5,000 to 8,000 travelers could eventually be ushered through the specialized security lines daily. That’s less than 1 percent of the average number of passengers screened daily at domestic airports. No one in the program is guaranteed an expedited screening, and the TSA says they’re still subject to random and unpredictable security steps.
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