The U.S. Transportation Security Administration for the first time will let travelers apply directly for expedited airport screening to avoid lanes requiring shoe removal and laptop checks.
In the agency’s biggest push to expand eligibility for its PreCheck program, U.S. air travelers will be able to apply online or at airports for access to speedier security lanes. PreCheck was previously restricted to frequent fliers nominated by airlines or enrolled through U.S. Customs’ programs for international travelers.
TSA Administrator John Pistole has set a goal of increasing eligibility to 25 percent of U.S. passengers by the end of 2013, up from about 2 percent last year.
“PreCheck is becoming a more accessible program for everyday travelers,” said Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy for U.S. Travel Association, a Washington-based trade group. “That’s what the travel industry has always hoped it would be.”
Advocates for expanding PreCheck have said eligibility is too restricted, limiting the program’s potential to speed up security checkpoints and make screenings less invasive for people who pose no risk.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Global Entry program, which offers a backdoor way to get into PreCheck for travelers who aren’t top-level frequent fliers, requires a passport and a personal interview at an international airport. The TSA’s new efforts are targeted at travelers who don’t have passports and don’t fly often, especially overseas.
“This initiative will increase the number of U.S. citizens eligible to receive expedited screening, through TSA PreCheck,” Pistole said in a statement. “PreCheck enables us to focus on the travelers we know the least about, adding efficiency and effectiveness to the screening process.”
Dulles International Airport near Washington and Indianapolis International Airport will be the first two airports to take applications, Pistole said.
Travelers would have to provide certain personal information, including date of birth, address, height, weight, and hair color. They’ll need a government-issued identification card. An online application will be followed by an on-site interview, where they will be fingerprinted. The tentative plan is to charge an $85 fee for a five-year membership.
Once approved, fliers will be provided a PreCheck number to give to airlines or enter when making a reservation.
Forty U.S. airports and six airlines—Alaska Air Group Inc., American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., US Airways Group Inc. and Virgin America Inc.—already participate in PreCheck, according to TSA’s website.
Pistole has said the agency doesn’t have the technical capability to do PreCheck background vetting in volume. TSA has been evaluating proposals from companies including Alclear LLC, which manages another private screening program called the Clear card at five U.S. airports, to do that work.
“If TSA can partner with the private sector to grow the program, that’s the next big win for the traveling public,” Hansen said.