TSA PreCheck to offer cheaper, easier way to cut lines at airports

Conde Nast Traveler

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The TSA is preparing to bring millions of additional fliers into its fast-pass-style lanes at airport checkpoints in what might be called a “PreCheck Lite," at reduced rates and lower barriers to entry.

In a recent phone interview from his office in Washington, TSA Chief John Pistole said that he wants to vastly increase the rolls of fliers who are eligible to use dedicated lanes, where pre-approved passengers can often zip through without having to remove shoes, laptops and jackets (although they still do get screened for metallic objects and submit their bags). It’s available at about 40 airports, but only with designated airline partners, so typically it’s not at every checkpoint at every terminal.

Some fliers gain entry via invitations from their airlines, based on their frequent-flier bona fides, but many get this as a perk for joining the Customs and Border Patrol’s Global Entry, which requires an interview, fingerprinting and a $100, five-year membership fee.

(Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

That program has boomed, with some 55,000 people signing up each month. Pistole said that when the TSA looked into the reasons why, it “found that fully 40 percent were just interested in using PreCheck to get through security faster,” and weren’t as likely to use the card for its original purpose, which was to bypass long lines at immigration upon arrival in the U.S.

In today’s announcement, the TSA said that the new PreCheck membership will cost $85 for five years and will require fingerprinting and a background check. Starting later this year, there will be two enrollment centers open for this option (Washington Dulles and Indianapolis airports). The TSA plans to add hundreds nationwide, though there's no timetable as of yet.

Pistole noted that with this expansion, the agency will likely meet its goal of having at least 25 percent of all fliers qualify for some sort of expedited treatment. Others who’ve benefited from similar moves include senior citizens, young children and members of the military. “What this is about is assessing risk; how can we differentiate among people? We understand that the majority of people traveling are low-risk, they’re just trying to get somewhere."

Pistole acknowledged, however, there a few other hurdles that must be cleared before a massive expansion can get underway. For one thing, airline participation is crucial — and several major airlines, including Southwest and JetBlue, aren't in the program. Their passengers can't take advantage of the lanes even if they qualify for the privilege for flights on other airlines. Pistole said he's talked to Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly and is optimistic that the airline will be on board by the end of the year.



View Comments