The Transportation Security Administration’s expedited security program, which allows trusted passengers to clear checkpoints with limited inconvenience, is popular with travelers. But that popularity, along with a recent security breach, has led the agency to announce that it will bend its rules a lot less.
The good news is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is boosting its marketing for the Pre-Check program—a sign that the program isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The bad news? If you’re a frequent flier, you probably won’t get randomly selected to try out the express lane anymore.
But there’s a good reason for that: The plan is meant to boost quality control as the number of people using the program (along with the similarly popular Global Entry program, which includes Pre-Check as part of the package) increases.
“If you want to keep receiving TSA Pre-Check on a consistent/reliable basis for the next five years, you are encouraged to enroll in one of the four trusted-traveler programs offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” the agency wrote in a blog post last month.
As Travel Pulse‘s Rich Thomaselli notes, the program was a good idea in an era of heightened airport security. Initially, it reduced workloads for TSA employees and limited unnecessary security checks on people who are unlikely to pose a threat. But over time, things changed.
“[A]s the years went on, the program became far more diluted,” Thomaselli explains. “TSA workers began using the Pre-Check lines to lessen the load and wait time on regular security lines, randomly choosing passengers to go through Pre-Check based on a variety of factors.”
When Pre-Check Failed
A recent news story may have played a significant role in the TSA decision.
Just days before TSA announced its policy change, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general report [PDF] indicated that a convicted murderer with terrorist ties was allowed to go through a Pre-Check line last June.
The felon, who got through at an unnamed airport, was not on any do-not-fly lists, nor was he a Pre-Check member. Rather, he was allowed through the expedited process after a risk assessment didn’t discover any problems.
“Mitigating and reducing passenger screening vulnerabilities is important to our nation’s aviation security,” Inspector General John Roth said, according to NBC News. “Incidents like this highlight the need for TSA to modify their Pre-Check procedures.”
While groups like the Global Business Travel Association and the U.S. Travel Association remain strongly supportive of the program, they emphasize that convenience and safety need to work hand in hand.
“There still needs to be stringent oversight and review by the TSA to ensure these trusted-traveler programs are working as intended,” GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael McCormick said in a recent news release. “Situations like the one cited by the Office of Inspector General have the potential to undermine confidence in the airport system as a whole.”