New Program Allows Fliers To Partially Bypass TSA Screening For Just $85

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A new program called PreCheck from the Transportation Security Administration is allowing travelers to bypass a portion of the security check for pre-flight departures. The program costs just $85 and would allow the traveler to bypass body scanners and pat-downs, without having to remove shoes, jacket, and belt. You can even keep your laptop and approved liquids in your bag.

A one-time fee of $85 covers five years of membership, but interested travelers need to undergo a background check, fingerprinting and other identifying information. According to the TSA, the program is currently at only 40 airports (with plans for expansion) and also covers frequent flier programs associated with Delta,  Alaska, American, US Airways, United and Virgin American airlines (members of those programs do not pay a fee).

America’s travel community applauds TSA for making its highly-successful trusted traveler program, PreCheck, more accessible to the traveling public,” U.S Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. “By expanding PreCheck enrollment options, today’s action by TSA will help speed more Americans safely through the US air travel system while strengthening America’s aviation security. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

It doesn’t seem like the smartest solution for people who loathe the pre-screen process or just want to get by faster; despite the background check, it may compromise safety for the rest of the passengers. Like many systems, those who want to corrupt it will likely find holes. The TSA, however, anticipates an opposite effect, where the program sorts out risky travelers from the masses.

This initiative will increase the number of U.S. citizens eligible to receive expedited screening, through TSA Pre-check,” said John Pistole, TSA administrator. “That’s our way of dealing with risk-based security and saying let’s get away from the one-size-fits-all, and let’s focus on the those that we can pre-screen … so we can expedite your physical screening at the checkpoint because we have a high confidence that you are not a terrorist.”

The TSA program mirrors that of the Custom and Border Protection’s Global Entry program, which gives international travelers the ability to quickly go through customs with a $100 fee and background check.

Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy for the U.S Travel Association, believes that the program is an important step for regular fliers who don’t travel internationally. According to him, it not only helps the travelers paying for the service, but also those who aren’t, who will experience shorter wait times as a result. The U.S Travel Association took a survey in 2010 and 2011 that found most travelers would be willing to pay a fee for faster screening.

If you can get the travelers who travel two to three times per year, that’s the majority of the flying public,” said Hansen. “If you can target them, that’s going to put a lot more people through the expedited screening lane and it’s going to shorten the regular screening line for everybody else.”

Still, if a member of the PreCheck program appears suspicious, they are still subject to “random and unpredictable” searches, the agency said in  a statement.

Pistole hopes to expand the program to 50% of travelers by the end of 2014 and expects the TSA to gain $255 million by the end of 2013 from the program.