Bloomberg News

Shoes-On Screening Begins With Test at Four U.S. Airports

October 04, 2011

(Updates with McGinnis, Thompson starting in ninth paragraph.)

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration today began a program aimed at speeding the most frequent travelers through airport checkpoints without the usual security measures such as removing shoes.

The pilot program, called PreCheck, is at four airports, in Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta, and includes only travelers who have been invited by the TSA and approved after background checks.

“We are looking at how to further enhance security through passenger pre-screening and, whenever possible, expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most,” Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole said today in prepared remarks for a conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the International Air Transport Association.

As many as 8,000 passengers per day are expected to move through the expedited checkpoints, Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, said Sept. 14. The program is voluntary. Approved passengers will receive coded boarding passes that enable TSA agents to refer them to a separate screening lane, Soule said.

Some members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler program, as well as some frequent fliers with Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines were invited to join PreCheck. The program is free of charge. Citing security reasons, the TSA hasn’t disclosed how it selected the participants.

‘A Good Step’

The TSA must expand PreCheck to include anyone willing to submit to criminal and commercial-data checks and provide a biometric such as a fingerprint to meaningfully improve airport security, said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington-based organization representing the travel industry.

“The frequency of flying is one important facet of the traveler profile, but so, too, are other things that cannot be addressed by the airlines alone,” Freeman said in an interview. “This is a good step in the right direction, but we believe the final program years down the road should be much bolder.”

About two-thirds of respondents to a survey conducted last December for the association said they would travel more frequently if security procedures were less intrusive and time- consuming while being as effective.

Risk-Based Security

TSA’s program may not have much impact on checkpoint wait times as many business travelers have access to shorter lines through airlines’ preferred passenger programs, Chris McGinnis, editor of The Ticket, a monthly e-mail newsletter for frequent travelers, said in an interview.

“Right now, if you went out to Atlanta airport where they are running the beta test you’ll find that the airport is not that busy,” he said.

PreCheck might prove more useful at heavy travel times such as the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, he said.

The TSA has experimented with expedited checkpoints for years, partnering with businesses in trials from 2004 to 2008. The agency abandoned that program, saying it was not effective.

PreCheck is part of TSA’s risk-based security initiative, which includes a trial program allowing pilots to bypass security checkpoints at several airports, Pistole said.

Risk-based security “means moving further away from what may have seemed like a one-size-fits-all approach and establishing TSA as a high-performing counterterrorism agency,” he said.

Expansion Plan

The Air Transport Association, the Washington-based trade group for the largest U.S. airlines, expects a second phase of PreCheck to include frequent fliers with Alaska Air Group Inc., Hawaiian Holdings Inc.’s Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways Corp., Southwest Airlines Co., US Airways Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc.’s United Airlines if the four-airport trial is successful, Steve Lott, a spokesman for the trade group, said in an e-mail.

“Allowing TSA to focus its finite resources on that which creates the greatest threat is both good policy and good security,” Lott said. “Our member airlines look forward to working with TSA to ensure its success.”

Representative Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the trial program may help TSA tailor its screening process.

“Given the clear need for checkpoint screening reforms and the public dissatisfaction with current procedures, I will continue to exercise scrutiny and oversight of TSA’s efforts at designing, testing and implementing this program,” Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement.

--With assistance from Heather Perlberg in New York. Editors: Bernard Kohn, Andrea Snyder

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at

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