TSA

Is the TSA’s PreCheck program ready for what comes next?

The TSA's "randomizer" in action at Orlando International Airport on Feb. 28, 2014. This iPad-based application sends roughly every third passenger to the faster Pre-Check line. The rest are offered given a conventional screening. If the arrow points left, it's your lucky day.
The TSA’s “randomizer” in action at Orlando International Airport on Feb. 28, 2014. This iPad-based application sends roughly every third passenger to the faster Pre-Check line. The rest are offered given a conventional screening. If the arrow points left, it’s your lucky day.

The Transportation Security Administration’s vaunted new PreCheck system, which offers selected air travelers access to expedited security screening, is hurtling toward its first big test: a crowd of spring break passengers, quickly followed by a crush of inexperienced summer vacationers.

Although the agency assigned to protect U.S. transportation systems says that it’s ready, some travelers remain unconvinced. They point to problems with the existing PreCheck procedures and their own often inconsistent experiences with them.

Here’s how PreCheck is supposed to work: Passengers pay an $85 enrollment fee and submit to a background check and interview. In exchange, they may receive a pre-9/11 type of screening that allows them to keep on their shoes, belts and light outerwear, leave their laptops in their cases and not remove clear zip-top bags of liquids and gels from their carry-on luggage.
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What’s wrong with the TSA?

urbanlight / Shutterstock.com
urbanlight / Shutterstock.com
If airport security is so good, why do passengers feel so bad?

That’s a valid question, considering how the Transportation Security Administration seems to be spinning its performance lately. The agency wants you to believe the dark days of body scans and pat-downs, of liquids, gels and shoes obediently placed on the conveyor belt, are well on their way out, thanks to its vaunted new Pre-check system. And remember, there have been no successful terrorist attacks since the agency’s creation, it would hasten to add.

So why aren’t we buying it? Why are lawmakers such as Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., threatening to introduce legislation that would force TSA agents to mind their manners?
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OK, here’s what we should allow on plane …

Mihejevs/Shutterstock
Mihejevs/Shutterstock
Can we look past this ridiculous debate about cellphones on planes? Can we ignore, for a moment, the breathless opinion polls, the pompous declarations by airlines that they’d never allow wireless chatter in their cabins, and the heated discussions you’ve read in your favorite travel blog?

Mobile phones on commercial flights, already on their way to becoming a reality in the rest of the civilized world, will eventually come to the United States. It matters not that 59% of Americans in a recent Quinnipiac University poll declared they’re against it. Since when is the interior of an aircraft — where good etiquette remains in short supply — a yak-free zone like a library or church?
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It’s time to trust the TSA

Minerva/Shutterstock
Minerva/Shutterstock
The TSA offered Sue Speck an early Christmas present when she checked in for a recent flight from Columbus to Los Angeles: a coveted Precheck designation on her boarding pass, which allowed her to avoid removing her shoes, taking out her laptop and most important, get around the agency’s dreaded full-body scanners when she was screened.

“It was easy,” says Speck, a sales administrative assistant who lives in Columbus. “There was no line.”

So easy that she found herself wishing for Precheck privileges on her next flight, even though she didn’t belong to the exclusive program.
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