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Airline Security: A Return to Sanity?

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I can think of only one word to describe an airline passenger who goes through the TSAís new streamlined security and feels vaguely grateful for having his rights somewhat restored. The word is pathetic, yet that was me last week when, entirely by random, I got shunted into the TSAís new TSA Pre security procedure.

Basically, what TSA Pre is is a return to pre-9/11 airline security, at least at the gate. That means your bags go through the scanner, but your computer stays inside and your shoes stay on. You get a trip through the metal detector, but no backscatter scanner. In other words, itís a return to sanity in the world of airline security. And it took 12 years to get here. Astonishing, really, but still welcome.

I got put into the TSA Pre line entirely by random chance, since it was undergoing testing two weeks ago when I flew to Las Vegas for NBAA. But you can apply for TSA Pre here and if you already have or intend to apply for Global Entry, TSA Pre, Iím told, can be granted as well.

I arrived at Tampa and headed for the long security line, which Iím used to by now. But a TSA agent looked at my ticket and directed me to a special aisle where there was no line. A second check of the boarding pass, the scanner and bag check and I was airside. If it took 90 seconds, Iíd be surprised. I almost felt guilty. Almost.

ďDonít get used to it,Ē a TSA agent told me on the return flight from Las Vegas. As the program is more widely deployed, TSA Pre will be available to more passengers. Thatís fine with me because itís vastly faster than the bottleneck of removing computers, shoes, belts and other scanner unfriendly items and/or getting behind people who donít understand they have to do this stuff.† On a busy travel day, the way weíve been doing it is an ordeal at best.

The government says TSA Pre is an attempt to stop poking and prodding millions of passengers who, often demonstrably through frequent trips, represent no threat to aviation security and to apply intelligence-based solutions to the airline security problem. Maybe all that snooping NSA is doing has finally caused them to figure out that your typical domestic airline passenger never represented a threat to security and likely never will. Perhaps theyíve learned to actually look where the threats really are. At least thatís what they say. Iíll take what I can get, thanks.

Thatís not to say, by the way, that I think airline security isnít necessary. It obviously is. I do want the carry-on bags scanned and the metal detector deployed. For while itís okay if I carry aboard a firearm, no one else should be allowed to, since I know Iím one of the good guys. But you? Maybe not. I'm sure you feel the same.

Weíll see where this goes, but so far, I like what Iím seeing. Over the weekend, I spent some time with David Wartofsky at Potomac Airfield. Hit hard by the Washington, D.C. government megastructure, Potomac almost ceased to exist as an operating airfield after 9/11.†As a survival reaction, Wartofsky got a better view of the government security rabbit hole than most of us and he thinks TSA Pre is one of a number of initiatives TSA director John Pistole is launching as a genuine means of reducing the intrusion of aviation security. I sure hope so. The country is swimming in security and surveillance and aviation needs all the breaks it can get at every level.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (13)

For all its shortcomings, one thing our government bureaucracies are adept at is 'shock negotiation'.

They announce that they intend to cut off both your legs and one arm; after agonized and extensive "negotiation" the plan is reduced to only cutting off one hand. You are left grateful if slightly confused....works every time.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 7, 2013 8:05 AM    Report this comment

It will be interesting to see how many people have gotten used to the "poke and prod" security theater and actually complain that TSA Pre is too *little* security. You won't find me among those people though; I for one welcome a return to sanity.

Interesting you mention Potomac Airfield, though. Like Potomac, College Park is another one that almost ceased to exist, and one that I have visited frequently. I can speak to the other two FRZ airports, but KCGS is the one GA airport I've been to (and I've been to quite a few in the northeast) where one could entirely get away with not needing a car after landing, with the DC metro within walking distance. It'd be a shame to lose these airports, and hopefully the FRZ will someday be lifted and not require GA pilots to go through a process that makes them feel like criminals in order to be cleared to fly in to the area. Perhaps that's hoping for too much, but then I never expected anything like "TSA Pre" to come about, either.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 7, 2013 8:32 AM    Report this comment

I was an InsPass holder in the pre-9/11 era. For those not familiar, it was the same as Global Entry and was hoped to speed holders through using an unmanned lane with a credit card sized I.D., and a fingerprint recognition system. It worked OK and I used it. The benefit to the government was that they didn't need to have staff dealing with trusted travelers at point of entry. There was no charge for having an InsPass card. Now they charge a hefty fee for the same thing. That's what annoys me. Why should I pay a fee to be 'entitled' to use a security lane which reduces cost to the government?

Posted by: Pat Barry | November 7, 2013 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I was an InsPass holder in the pre-9/11 era. For those not familiar, it was the same as Global Entry and was hoped to speed holders through using an unmanned lane with a credit card sized I.D., and a fingerprint recognition system. It worked OK and I used it. The benefit to the government was that they didn't need to have staff dealing with trusted travelers at point of entry. There was no charge for having an InsPass card. Now they charge a hefty fee for the same thing. That's what annoys me. Why should I pay a fee to be 'entitled' to use a security lane which reduces cost to the government?

Posted by: Pat Barry | November 7, 2013 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Yes the TSA pre is great, then you encounter the body scanner at another airport where you have to take the shoes, belt and empty your pockets of absolutely everything!

Posted by: CRYSTAL PT INC | November 7, 2013 9:39 AM    Report this comment

I too was selected on my return from NBAA for the TSA Pre. I'll echo Pat's comment - selling us something that should be free and reduces cost. I was at the General Session when TSA director John Pistole spoke. Nice to hear that we are all no longer suspects but you'll have to pay for this now-none-as privilege.

Posted by: John Zapp | November 7, 2013 10:47 AM    Report this comment

In my neighborhood it's called "protection" money; you're supposed to be glad to pay for it, or else...

Posted by: A Richie | November 7, 2013 3:57 PM    Report this comment

There is still a big flaw in the 'in transit' system. Before eApis, I would fly myself to Mexico. Always a pleasure to fly south through the U.S. until that program got started. I then decided to save the big gas dollars and flew the airlines. The trips were always through Houston. On the return from Mexico, the nightmare begins. Why is it that one has to leave the secure area after clearing customs to make a connecting flight? I have seen people miss flights, get hauled out for getting heated, because the system puts you through another screening. A minimum of 2 1/2 hours is needed to get through that circus. Worse, the airlines could care less about the predicament. They just give the seats away to standby passengers. Anywhere else in the world, one stays on the secure side. I now fly non-stop on the sardine can charter as the lesser of two evils. I hope the TSA pre is the beginning of sanity returning.

Posted by: MICHAEL BROOKER | November 8, 2013 9:10 AM    Report this comment

Error. Error. Error. Mismatch. Impossibility. This can't be. Airline Security & Sanity used in one sentence is beyond average cognitive ability of readers.

Posted by: Jason Baker | November 8, 2013 2:08 PM    Report this comment

I don't know, I like the idea of having an option like this, but to me this wreaks of extortion - "pay us more money, and if we like you, we won't harass you as much..."

On an unrelated note, it'd be nice if the part of TSA that handles the Maryland-3 program (allowing pilots to operate at College Park, Potomac, Hyde) would talk to the part that does TSA Pre. Why can't the fingerprinting & background check that pilots have undergone to land at the Maryland-3 count for something toward less harassment at the airline gate?

Posted by: Philip Rash | November 9, 2013 1:43 PM    Report this comment

Like you, I was pleasantly surprised by my amended clearance to TSA Pre-Check on a recent flight via United Airlines. My return was on US Airways, when I was also cleared via the Pre-Check line. The TSA agents on duty didn't seem to know why I was given this option, but my understanding is that it is being given automatically to frequent flyers.

What I still don't know is whether this same courtesy will be extended when flying on an airline that does not consider me a frequent flyer. Or whether just being a member of that airline's frequent-flyer program is sufficient qualification. Or how long this Pre-Check clearance will last. One TSA agent indicated it would be good for five years, but the airline frequent-flyer programs update their members' status annually.

So, still a lot of unanswered questions, but this does seem to be a big step in the right direction.

Posted by: Ken Dwight | November 9, 2013 4:20 PM    Report this comment

What amazes me is that anyone can get on and off an Amtrak train without so much as a second look. No security, no bag scan, sometimes they don't even look at your ticket until you're on board. I think this, more than anything, points out the disingenuous nature of the TSA and their procedures.

Posted by: Michael Friedman | November 11, 2013 8:33 AM    Report this comment

Philip Rash, my thoughts exactly! I can actively fly my own plane only a few miles from Washington, DC, but I can't passively sit in a commercial jet without being going through intrusive security. One should think that I would automatically be enrolled in TSA Pre.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 11, 2013 11:21 AM    Report this comment

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