When it comes to the TSA, you may know less than you think.
I was reminded of that last week when I heard from Sergei Shevchuk, a reader who was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Delta Air Lines.
“I was pleasantly surprised when an officer advised me not to take out my laptop and liquids and to keep my shoes and jacket on,” he told me. “They said they’ve been doing it for a week or two. Do you know anything about this?”
Well, yes. It sounded a lot like the TSA’s new PreCheck program, which allows certain “trusted” travelers to use an express lane at the airport. Only, Sevchuk says he never applied for PreCheck.
I put the question to Sterling Payne over at the TSA. Look closer, she told me. Sevchuk may have opted into the program without knowing it. “I would suggest he check his Delta [frequent flier] profile to see if he is opted in,” says Payne.
He did. And sure enough, under Sevchuk’s SkyMiles profile, there was a little check box with the following disclaimer:
For Delta SkyMiles members, by checking this box, you also consent to Delta Air Lines, Inc. sharing your information with TSA to be considered for modified screening at select TSA checkpoints.
The takeaway? You may have applied for PreCheck without even knowing it. Careful which buttons you check online.
It was that kind of week, actually; a week in which I kept saying that when it comes to the TSA, maybe we don’t really know what we think we do.
Take the sequel to the underwear bomber, for example. Not long after the story broke about a foiled plot to blow up a Western airliner by al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, agency apologists began citing it as a reason for keeping the TSA and its objectionable scans and pat-downs.
“Last week’s revelation that terrorists tried — yet again — to blow up an airplane using a bomb sewn into underwear should remind fliers why the pat-downs and scans are necessary,” wrote one New York Post commentator. “If this seems intrusive, it’s only because the madmen are depraved.”
But hang on. Turns out the would-be suicide bomber wasn’t depraved — he was a double agent.
Absolutely nothing wrong with trying to write a story headlined, “In defense of the TSA,” but maybe we should wait until the TSA actually catches a real terrorist before trying to make that case.
But it cuts both ways. Consider what happened when an 18-month-old girl was ordered off a JetBlue flight from Palm Beach, Fla., to New York after she was thought to be on the “no-fly” list of suspected terrorists. All fingers pointed to an inept TSA for suggesting that the toddler could be a jihadist bomber.