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TSA expanding programs to expedite security screenings

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With the summer travel season approaching, those who travel by air may be inundated by security lines and potential pat-downs. However, simultaneously the is TSA continually developing programs to expedite the security screening process and the newest option, the TSA Pre-Check Program may quicken the pace at security screening stations in airports nationwide during the next few years.

Some History: The desire for expedited security screenings is not a new and is a goal shared by travelers and TSA officials alike. The Clear Card (full disclosure, I possess one) has to date been the most popular method concerning pre-screening card holders who submit and application and bio-metric data to bypass the ID check lines and have immediate access to luggage screening and metal detectors/body scanners.

During the past decade the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has offered multiple programs to assist frequent travels who may wish to lessen their time concerning security, immigration and customs (for those who travel beyond the borders of the United States). Many of these programs are partnering with the TSA to provide expedited screening for those who are participants in one of the programs offered by the CBP.

Probably the most well-known is The Global Entry Program, most popular with travelers who frequently depart and return to the United States from overseas (and available at Denver International Airport). Oriented to frequent international travelers, the Global Entry Program is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program which allows for quicker clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Upon arrival into the United States at an international airport, there is an expedited access point allowing participants to go to a kiosk, submit their machine-readable passport/U.S. permanent resident card, scan a fingertip and provide a customs declaration. The kiosk provides a transaction receipt and allows participants to proceed to baggage claim or the exit bypassing the lines usually associated with customs and immigration.

Related are two predecessor programs, The Nexus and Sentri Programs which allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing by both U.S. and Canadian and Mexican officials respectively at designated border crossings and at various airports and marine locations.

The new TSA Pre-Check developed in conjunction with Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security may be the most popular option for domestic travelers and at present is open to U.S. citizens who are members of the Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI Trusted Traveler programs as well as various airline frequent fliers.

While officially launched in October 2011, the program is scheduled to expand both airline and airport access during 2012 and beyond. The program is not an entitlement to bypass security screening, however, participants may be able to expedite their screening process by:

• Keeping their shoes on.
• Keeping their 3-1-1 compliant liquids bag in their carry-on.
• Leaving their laptop in their bag
• Retaining light outerwear/jacket through screening
• Leaving belt on

Anyone who has flown recently understands the congestion at screenings usually involves fellow passengers literally disrobing, extricating their liquids from their carry-on luggage and placing their bare laptop in a separate bin. The process is repeated in reverse on the other end of the screening belt.

For those who may not be eligible for the TSA Quick-Check program or are not frequent fliers and thus able to bypass the general security line, a few tips to make your screening process easier and quicker.

• Shoes: Disregard fashion and consider slip-ons.

• Belt: Consider a belt which is easy to slip on and off. From experience a fabric/ribbon belt and belt-loops are not a good combination at the screening area.

• Liquids: Between manufacturers offering travel compliant sizes and companies offering reusable and re-sealable clear quart-sized bags, many options are available to assist the traveler.

• Laptop: There are a few new laptop bags which open in a centerfold style thus allowing screening without the need to remove the laptop. From experience, placement or removal depends on the TSA personnel on duty who may still request the laptop be removed.

• Outerwear: I usually suggest a segregated bin with outerwear, shoes and liquids placed on top.

Placement on the Belt: Being a frequent traveler and thus having spent time in security screening lines I may suggest the following order concerning placement of your possessions onto the belt.

1) Shoes/Jacket/Liquids: Place this first as the bin may beat you to the other end.
2) Luggage: Place this second
3) Laptop: Last as you want to be present to retrieve your laptop and lessen the risk of someone inadvertently taking it. Also, I suggest attaching a business card or similar on the top of the computer as additional security.

Body Scanners: As they become more popular, on note, the watch on your wrist will require review. Thus, if in long sleeves, be sure to roll your sleeves up to allow immediate inspection. In the United States my experience TSA just looks at the watch while on the wrist. In Europe, many screeners will ask the watch be removed and inspected.

The most important advice is time and patience. During the summer months there is an uptick in occasional fliers and families. Coupled with the increase in passenger traffic, lines will be longer and congestion will be unavoidable. When booking your flights consider the following:

  • First Flight: Take the morning flight if possible. Mornings lessen the chance of weather delays and later in the day congestion.
  • Fly Nonstop: Yes it may be more expensive; however, the time savings and less change of being delayed in a secondary airport are well worth the cost differential.
  • Fly Midweek/Holidays: In general Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are less crowded days to fly as are holidays.
  • Check-in Prior: If available be sure to check-in prior to arrival to the airport.
  • Check Schedules: If there is a chance your flight will be overbooked, look at flight schedules for later in the day and depending on the offer, consider flying on the next flight out.

Happy and Safe Travels

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