WASHINGTON – More than a quarter of U.S. fliers can expect speedier passage through airport checkpoints – shoes and coats on, laptop computers untouched – by year’s end under a program announced Monday by the Transportation Security Administration.
About 450,000 passengers a day will be eligible for the special treatment as existing programs are expanded to include a random selection of people deemed low security risks by the TSA.
The new program goes well beyond the expansion announced last week of the TSA Pre-Check program, an expansion that included its implementation at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Unlike the Pre-Check program, the passengers chosen for the new expedited service will not be required to submit personal information beyond that provided when they book their flights.
“To do this, the government and TSA are collecting no new information,” said Joseph Salvator, the TSA’s deputy assistant administrator. “Everything we’re using to make these risk assessments is information that the passengers currently provide the TSA, which is name, date of birth and gender.”
Passengers will not know they have been selected for the faster lines until they receive their boarding pass or, in cases where the designation has been coded, when they present their boarding pass at a security checkpoint.
From there, they will be directed to a line currently reserved for members of the Global Entry program and the TSA’s Pre-Check program, and those who fall into exclusive categories, such as frequent fliers, members of the military and passengers older than 75 or younger than 12.
Carry-on luggage will pass through X-ray machines and passengers will go through metal detectors, but several of the steps that slow lines and frustrate fliers will not be required.
The TSA plans to have the expanded program in place by early October, well before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that is the most heavily traveled of the year.
The worldwide Global Entry program and the domestic Pre-Check program require passengers to submit applications and fingerprints, a level of disclosure that some critics consider invasive. In return, those passengers are eligible for expedited lines most of the time.
Expansion of the program to randomly selected low-risk passengers is in keeping with the goal of TSA Administrator John S. Pistole to redirect his agency’s focus toward those who appear to pose the greatest threat.
“It’s our philosophy that one shoe size doesn’t fit everybody,” Salvator said. “When TSA was stood up after 9/11, we treated everybody the same. We’re trying to move off that model and use a risk-based approach and the intelligence we have developed over the years.”
Although TSA officials acknowledged that passengers chosen at random for the faster line might become motivated to enroll in the Pre-Check program, they said that was not the objective of the plan announced Monday.
The TSA announced last week that it will expand its Pre-Check program to 60 more airports, including the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, bringing the total number to 100 and making it available in all major U.S. airports.
Pistole said that more than 15 million passengers have passed through the faster checkpoints since the Pre-Check program was launched in 2011.
Passengers accepted in Pre-Check pay $85 for a five-year membership. They receive a “known traveler number” to use when they make air-travel reservations and can enter the number on their airline frequent-flier profiles.