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Holiday airline travel gets easier with TSA Pre-check screening

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Just in time for the holiday travel season, the Transportation Security Administration has rolled out new security measures that are less intrusive and faster for travelers. The program is called “Pre-check” and I had the chance to try it first hand on an airline trip from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (airport details on GlobalAir.com). The program expanded to several new airports on Dec. 16.

To participate in the Pre-check program, travelers must be U.S. citizens and members of frequent flyer programs who meet certain TSA criteria, the Pre-check application program, or the Trusted Traveler program. Members of the U.S. military also qualify for Pre-check. U.S. citizens who do not fall into one of these categories can apply for Pre-check status on the TSA website. If you are a member of a frequent flyer program, you may already be approved for Pre-check.

Pre-check is not available at all airports. A list of approved airports and airlines is also available on the TSA website. The list includes hours of operation for Pre-check lanes, but times are subject to change.

Once approved, taking part in the Pre-check is easy. Boarding passes will be printed with the “TSA Pre✓™ ” logo. When the traveler goes to the TSA security checkpoint, a TSA officer will direct them to the Pre-check lane if your trip is eligible. This lane will allow travelers to go through security screening without removing their shoes, belts or lightweight jackets, which greatly speeds the process of clearing security. Laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids may be kept in their bags and children under 12 can accompany their adult travel companions.

On my trip, I arrived at the checkpoint after a brief wait and was referred to the Pre-check line by the TSA officer who pre-screened my boarding pass and identification. I carried my roller bag to the Pre-check line which was shorter and moved quicker than the traditional screening lines.

At the head of the line, another TSA officer verified the Pre-check logo on my boarding pass and crosschecked it with my ID again. As we moved toward the checkpoint, TSA officers reminded us that we did not have to remove our shoes, belts or lightweight jackets. On this cold day in Atlanta, most travelers had heavy overcoats that did have to go through the x-ray machines with our bags, however. They did not offer reminders that laptops or 3-1-1 bags did not have to be removed.

My travel documents were examined a third time as I approached the screening area. The screening process was also made quicker by the fact that the Pre-check travelers were screened by a traditional metal detector rather than one of the controversial body scanners. A scanner was present at the checkpoint so presumably it could be used if conditions warranted. Travelers who set off the metal detector were still singled out for a pat-down by TSA officers, but this seemed to happen infrequently.

The TSA Pre-check program is definitely something that the TSA got right. The agency has taken much criticism in recent years for excesses such as pat-downs of children and the elderly who posed no threat. Many videos of TSA pat-downs went viral and outraged the public. The Pre-check program is an attempt to restore sanity and convenience to the traveling public.

Although TSA Pre-check is not available on a national basis, it does hold promise. For frequent flyers, the program should take some of the stress and frustration out of going to the airport. For less frequent travelers, relief will hopefully come soon.

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