TSA To Start Limiting Pre-Check Eligibility

Two of the greatest travel innovations of the past few years have been Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. Global Entry has taken the frustration out of the immigration process, while TSA Pre-Check has taken the frustration out of the security process. Well, at least for the most part.

TSA-Pre-Check

When TSA Pre-Check first started it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Very few people had registered for the program at the time, so not only were the travelers using the lane actually frequent travelers that knew “the drill,” but the lines were almost non-existent.

Then over time the experience was diluted substantially. Passengers that didn’t sign-up started randomly getting TSA Pre-Check. This didn’t just slow down the line because there were considerably more people using the checkpoints, but also because they didn’t know how to use them. So they’d still take everything out of their bags, set off the x-rays, etc. In many cases Pre-Check took longer than the “normal” security line.

There’s a Seattle Times article which discusses exactly this (and what’s about to change, which I’ll cover below):

One unintended consequence of sending uninitiated travelers into the PreCheck lanes was confusion. Frequent travelers who belonged to PreCheck or other trusted-traveler programs grumbled that PreCheck lanes on many occasions became clogged with bewildered passengers who held up lines by removing their shoes and jackets and behaving just as they have been conditioned to behave at regular checkpoint lanes.

What I didn’t realize is just how out of control the Pre-Check situation has gotten:

Of all domestic travelers, he said, “now we’re around 45 percent” for those receiving PreCheck. So far, the daily record has been close to half of passengers receiving PreCheck or some other form of “trusted traveler” expedited screening — slightly more than 1 million of the 2.1 million passengers screened by the agency on July 24, he said.

I knew it was bad, but I had no clue that in many cases nearly half of domestic passengers were eligible for Pre-Check. That’s crazy, given that typically at most a quarter of security lines are Pre-Check ones.

Well, it seems that the TSA Pre-Check experience is about to get a lot better:

If you’ve grown accustomed to being waved through the PreCheck security lanes at the airport without having paid to enroll in the popular program, time is running out. The program has been so successful that the agency is planning to limit it soon to those who enroll — and pay up.

With the PreCheck program on a solid footing, Pistole said, “We’ll start pulling back on the number of people who we include on a random, managed-inclusion basis, because we want to, frankly, cater to those who have actually signed up, and who we have the highest confidence in because we know the most about them.”

About 440,000 people have paid to enroll in the PreCheck program, which provides a quick pass through special airport-security checkpoints where travelers do not need to take off shoes or light outerwear, and are not required to remove laptops or liquids in the prescribed amounts from carry-on bags.

It’s time to do the happy dance, folks! It looks like the Pre-Check lines will actually go back to being extremely useful!

So, who’s excited?

Comments

  1. Finally! I was invited back in the day before it was publicly available for sign up and it was awesome. At CVG I feel like more people are using it than not, and on one occasion before we got my wife set up with Global Entry she went faster through the normal security line.

  2. PRAISE THE LORD!

    Unless a bunch of Abercrombie models show up at my office today with a Rimowa full of hundreds, today can’t get any better. Won’t get any better.

  3. We were in the Pre-check line at SJU, and a TSA person opened the line to non- Pre-check travelers. First through was a woman and her children, who obviously had not a clue about what to do. The TSA person commented that it had become all about speed.

  4. Yet someone who was caught, as a minor, with half a gram of pot in 1998 is still ineligible for pre-check as a result.

    Totally get why this is a win for frequent travelers, but the TSA and their security screenings remain a joke.

  5. I do not believe the 45% number. No airport I have flown from has ever had anywhere near close to half the people going through a PreCheck line nor anywhere close to half the lanes dedicated to PreCheck.

  6. Though I understand the purpose of PreCheck, I personally felt safer when everyone went through security the same way.

  7. Does this still include people who get Pre-check through Global Entry or do you have to sign up through TSA directly now (and pay another 85 bucks)?

  8. I agree with Droopy – and Lucky, I don’t share your experience. I travel every week, typically at peak times, and I’ve never had a pre-check line take more than a couple minutes, and that’s only because it’s filled with a bunch of business travelers (all of whom actually have pre-check). Also, I feel like they’ve gotten a lot better about policing who tries to enter the line – in fact, the past couple times someone without pre-check has managed to get in line and get up to the ID checker, only to get one beep, I’ve seen them make that person go all the way back and get in the regular line, and not let them through like they used to, which is great (this is mostly at CLT but at a couple other airports as well).

    Having said that, I’m all for any further reduction and/or enforcement.

  9. Maybe NY is a special example, but I originate at LGA/JFK weekly, and there are frequently people in the Pre-Check line who have no idea what the process is, why they were selected, etc.

    And at Terminal 2 at ORD, the Pre line is also always jammed – often with more than the other lanes combined.

  10. So what’s this “PreCheck” anyway? Does this make sense in any way? Why is there a “normal” security scan and then there’s “PreCheck” which obviously is not as thorough? Because terrorists should be forced to sign up for “PreCheck” before blowing up a plane!? Seriously, what a stupid idea is this whole concept anyways!?
    I am a great proponent of dedicated priority security lines for frequent travelers. Those speed up the process for them and calms them down (and this is just fair as frequent travelers contribute to a higher amount of revenue for the airport than the average traveler – also, non-frequent travelers like my parents get to the airport 3 hrs before departure anyway, so they have plenty of time to waste in the security lines).
    But can anybody explain the idea behind the “PreCheck”? Is there any rationale behind it or is it just as random as other policies that authorities come up with (like prohibiting liquids aboard airplanes but still allowing lighters).

  11. Seattle pre-check lines have occasionally been longer than standard lines, often filled with people who did not even know they were in a pre-check line until they reached the belt since they had been directed to the line by one of the “line managers”.

    This story is another example of why most airport security is now just theatrics. TSA has been bringing “unprocessed” people thru the lines in large numbers in order to build demand for the program and generate paid memberships. So making thousands of security compromises daily for over a year is fine if it benefits their departmental budget, but I still can’t bring a bottle of water through security after over 500 flights in my life without incident. Also notable that they’ve decided to make this change the new federal fiscal year coming up in about 7 weeks.

  12. Few things are more frustrating than pre check lanes being taken over by hoards of inexperienced travelers. I have my frequent commutes down to a science, and having to wait longer than expected because precheck has been open to the masses really slows down the process. LGA and MCO are two frequent offenders, JFK and SEA have been known to open these lanes often as well.
    Looking forward to the day when “we get what we paid for” with precheck. Great news!

  13. I will be happy if this talk turns into action.

    I am sick of the TSA using the Pre-check line as something to use when the normal lines get too long and the TSA supervisors are trying to keep their average wait times down.

  14. Why do we think it’s just theater? I’m asking – I honestly don’t know the answer.

    Last year, coming off a flight at HKG, the guy barely looked at my passport, and when i asked why, he said we already know everything about you.

    Given the NSA is reading my texts, is it all just theater? Or do they actually know which of us is a problem, even before we go thru the line?

  15. Flew out of T4 at LAX last night and everyone was told — “This is a precheck line all persons do not have to take off their shoes, etc” As far as I know, I was the only person with precheck actually written on my boarding pass, either they were doing some testing or the screeners were too lazy to actually have two lines. The only thing I got to do was cut in front of some people since there was a separate line to get to the ID checker. But everyone was confused about the shoes and belt.

  16. I have almost missed my flight because of backed up pre check lines which took 20 min. They put non English speakers in the line… If I can’t reliably get through in a short time it’s not useful in saving time.

  17. Actually, the exact opposite should happen. All lanes should be pre-check style. Stop the shoes, belts, jacket nonsense. Stop feeling me up every time I travel. But what am I saying – there’s an entire bureaucratic entity that exists for no other purpose than changing this around every few months to justify their existence. Oh, I mean to “stop terrorists”.

  18. Thank goodness. At one recent airport, I noticed the Pre-Check line was longer than the non-pre-check line!

  19. @ Robert — I would assume having signed up through any of the methods that come with Pre-Check would qualify. So it’s those being “randomly” chosen that are getting the cut.

  20. I can’t wait for this to happen, as Pre-Check has become a joke at a lot of the airports through which I fly. The TSA agents (which my friend used to say was an acronym for ‘Thousands Standing Around’) don’t care how long the line takes and wave people through to get rid of them. Most of airport security is kabuki theater anyway, might as well let those of us who are in on the gag waste less of our time waiting.

  21. Finally! OAK and LAS are a huge mess with them mixing the pre-check and non pre-check lines and passengers. What used to take 5-10 minutes now takes easily 20-30 when its not crowded. Often times you see people going through with water, belts off, shoes on, phones in hands etc and having to do it over and over.

  22. On the one hand, it should make MY experience better. On the other hand, this whole thing is a sham. Everyone except high risk should get PreCheck-style security.

    Also, I’m willing to bet that significantly more than half of those people who get PreCheck don’t notice/care about/understand the little logo on their BPs and just go through the regular line anyway. So even though close to 50% are getting PreCheck, probably 20% of those actually utilize PreCheck. Real made up statistics, by the way.

  23. Good News, I’ve had pre check since day one, AA tossed me in the pool. so I dont recall ever paying anything? and have been frustrated w the onslaught of newbies that have slowed the process down. Will AA take care of this for me LOL, or do I have to take some action/? and when.

    Thanks

  24. I’m not. I kept on getting PreCheck without paying. Mostly on United but also with AA as well. In my experience the PreCheck line was always shorter/I was the only one on it. That being said, the only two airports I experienced it at were Memphis and Richmond but still. It’s upsetting that unexperienced travelers ruined this free perk for me by not knowing what to do or what they did and didn’t need to put through the machine. When I go through, I put my phone and wallet into my bag and walk right through. I’m not sure what’s so complicated about that. Lucky, did they say when this will begin to happen?

  25. I get a chuckle from every story about the TSA. Don’t you think it’s pretty telling that almost 500k people have PAID to avoid the security theater of the TSA? They have made traveling in the US such a displeasure that people will pay to avoid them. Granted, I love Pre-check, but the fact it’s gotten to this point is ridiculous.

  26. Hooray! This is great news. For those above who say they always breeze through, you must not be traveling through the same airports I am. For the most part, PreCheck is still faster but on some mornings at DFW, it seems like I’m stuck behind random clueless families.

    My “favorite” experience though is where AA shares security checkpoints with Southwest. It’s there that I always get behind several random retirees with PreCheck who not only need to undress in a painfully slow motion, but they insist on separating their belongings into six to seven separate bins, all put through longways with at least 9″ of space in between each bin. It’s torture to wait through!

  27. Droopy and others have commented that they don’t believe the 45% number. One plausible explanation could be that 45% get the pre-check notation on their boarding pass, but many don’t notice it or understand what it means, so they go through the regular line. I’ll bet there are a ton of people doing that.

  28. This has SOOO made my day!!! Last recent trip, people ahead of me on both legs were taking belts and shoes off and holding up the line. I always tell them, “This is pre-check, you don’t have to do that,” as I go around them and their look of total confusion. 🙂 It’s not supposed to be just revenue based, it’s supposed to be for people with pre-screened background checks. Exactly how well screened are random people they pick, who haven’t gone through the entire process?? (yeah, I know, it’s a gov agency and I used to be a gov contractor, LOL)…. IF this really happens and they enforce it, then happy dance, happy dance….

  29. But… but… why does one’s ability to pay imply a lower security risk? Most of us got pre-check for free through our frequent flyer status, because having flown hundreds of flights without incident makes me a lower security risk than someone with no travel patterns. I’m glad they’re ending random pre-check for the non-enrolled, but I fear we’ll be no happier in the long run if pre-check becomes a paid perk (like elite security lanes and priority boarding have basically become.) When everyone’s special, nobody is. Pre-check eligibility should remain a privilege that’s offered to frequent travelers based on their flight history, for free.

  30. So let me get this straight.

    TSA is admitting lots of randomly-chosen people into PreCheck lines. (Happened to my family recently, in fact). That means that the TSA is implicitly admitting that the PreCheck level of security (keep your shoes on and your liquids in your bag) is just as good as the non-pre-check level of security.

    So the appropriate thing for the TSA to do is to not to *limit* PreCheck, but to *expand* that level of security-checking to EVERYONE.

    But, what a surprise, they aren’t doing that. Could that be because the TSA is salivating over the revenue stream they expect from charging people?

  31. I travel LAX-LAS and LAX-SFO on UA quite frequently. At LAS, the pre-check at T3 (basically everyone but Southwest) always moves quickly – even quicker than the dedicated First Class line. The pre-check stations in the main terminal T1 (Southwest) can definitely be an exercise in patience. LAX T7 pre-check has been hit or miss. I’ve zipped through in 1-2 minutes, but I’ve also seen it take as long as 15-20 minutes. SFO has been hit or miss as well, though marginally better than LAX.

  32. “Yet someone who was caught, as a minor, with half a gram of pot in 1998 is still ineligible for pre-check as a result.”

    I’d be shocked if this were accurate. I know people who have minor criminal records that have a security clearance… surely that’s more intensive than pre check?

  33. TSA. What a joke… Totally Silly Agency
    Precheck was designed to be for “TRUSTED travelers” who underwent extensive background checks and had to go out of their way to appear for personal interview and the likes. Not to say anything about the cost. My fiance, who is a physician and an upstanding citizen, was turned down for the program because she has a minor driving violation on her record which came up during the interview process. Yet then they randomly let in whoever and dilute the Secure program with regular people who they know NOTHING about. And now, “our pilot program of opening it up to many” was a success… so now they’re going to limit it (thank god!) only to those who pay up. So, it was a marketing ploy all along for an agency with many failures under their belt to stay relevant in an era of budget cuts and to generate revenue. Please!

  34. hey FWIW, the day I first used my known traveler ID was the day of my first secondary screening. and since then, i’ve had excess scrutiny maybe 30-40% of my flights. never had this problem before. sure is ironic. was worth it to get GE though, saves a ton of time at JFK.

    as the saying goes, “your mileage may vary”

  35. Finally the people that actually paid for it or got it because they got Global Entry are the ones that are going to benefit from it. I was getting tired of being behind people that randomly got it and then didn’t know how to use it and back up the whole line

  36. Don’t be shocked if the people invited from airline elite programs also lose their access. Remember, that was part of the pilot program. If the shift is toward paid enrollment and whatever investigation actually gets done, invited airline elites are not part of that group. Might be time to suck it up and get GE or NEXUS, but I’d imagine the overlap between FFs and trusted traveler programs is already fairly high.

  37. Also, Lucky, on the 45% number – that appears to include “expedited” so it’s not just the people in the Pre lane. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s where they hand you a brightly colored card or sticker and tell you to show it down the line. It’s pre-check for the person (metal detector) but the bags still need to be unpacked. I know this because despite PWM, my home airport, having Pre-Check, it’s only actually open for like an hour a week and definitely not when I show up. My Pre gets me a bright orange card, but I’m routinely seeing all of the senior citizens and families with kids holding the same.

    What’s nice about expedited is that even airports that don’t have Pre do have expedited for the most part. Very small stations like CHA, for instance.

  38. This is the best news I’ve heard in a while. Can’t be too soon. Pre-check lines are getting longer and longer populated with people who have not a clue what to do.

  39. Actually, the people with Nexus get a better deal. Half the cost of Global entry, and you get more benefits.

  40. So if I paid for Global Entry and got TSA Pre for free, does that mean I am about to be booted out of TSA Pre? And having done it this way by the way, at the end of the Global Entry “interview” – and I use the term loosely, it was more like just finalizing my entry into the program – the officer said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re also in TSA Pre now as a result of enrolling in Global Entry, but we don’t run it so here’s a bookmark, go on TSA’s website and read up about it.’ Which I did and TSA’s website does not explain in detail what to expect screening-wise. So with this level of education, it’s no wonder Precheck newbies don’t know what to do, and furthermore I have seen some inconsistency with how TSA treats Pre passengers – e.g., whether laptop has to come out and go in separate tray – so who really knows what to do or expect – I don’t fly enough to, that’s for sure.

  41. The last US budget agreement congress mandated that 50 pct of travelers get some form of expedite by some point this year. That’s why TSA is going crazy expanding pie check.

  42. @Truth,@Lucky

    I believe this is the case:
    Nexus gets you nexus + global entry + precheck
    global entry gets you global entry + precheck
    precheck gets precheck

  43. Ok, my PreCheck ease was shattered this morning. Departing SEA and had a bunch of completely clueless travellers in front of me.
    Took everything out of the bags then when TSA said they did not have to, then held up the line putting everything back in. While doing that, one of them put a wheeled bag upright on the counter and it rolled off onto the floor causing more drama. Grrrrrrr

  44. If the purpose of PreCheck is to expedite security for trusted passengers, it always amazes me to hear about random people being given PreCheck without going through some sort of a security assessment/background check.

  45. The TSA Pre-Check Twitter page is laughable. The question the landing page poses… TSA Pre-check – what does it mean?
    My response is – Anymore fu£# all.
    Becoming more of a hindrance given TSA’s liberal access to novice travelers.

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