As the TSA rolls out PreCheck to more and more airports I’m enjoying the opportunity to use it — shoes don’t have to come off, freedom baggie doesn’t have to come out (though liquid rules apply, and this isn’t a huge benefit since I’ve only been given a hard time about my liquids bag in my carryon on average about once a year for the past three years).
Mostly, though, there’s no nude-o-scope (and thus no opting out) and there aren’t that many people in the program yet. Usually there’s no line at all, just a bunch of TSA employees standing around by an unused checkpoint waiting for me to come through.
It’s a far more civilized checkpoint experience than what we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade. It’s almost like… security used to be before 9/11 led to a federal takeover of airport checkpoint operations and science fiction plots began piling on silliness. It’s the first step in reversing the truest al Qaeda victory of all, that we both scare and inconvenience ourselves (not to mention the waste of resources and concomitant drag on the economy) every time we walk into an airport.
Sounds wonderful, and it is, except that PreCheck doesn’t actually save you time.
Sure, when you get to use it you wait in line at the checkpoint less, and wind up cooling your heels in the lounge longer. But you don’t actually get to show up later at the airport, because you never know in advance whether or not PreCheck will be available to you.
- Will the PreCheck checkpoint even be open? I’ve departed Miami when it wasn’t, and the priority security line took about 30 minutes to get through.
- Will you get the green light to go through? I usually do, but today at JFK I wasn’t cleared for it, I got only one green beep instead of three there. Fortunately lines were short and I was able to opt for one with no nude-o-scope (which begs the question of the usefulness of machines you can choose to go through or not depending on choice of lanes…)
Since you can’t count on using it, you can’t count on saving time as a result of it, most folks will turn up at the airport assuming a long security wait rather than risk missing a flight (or the stress from almost missing a flight, begging for help to skip the lines to make a flight that’s about to depart).
The problem with “pre-clearing” passengers is that those who are pre-cleared become the perfect terrorist mules. So you don’t want trusted travelers to have no security checks at all, or so the theory goes. And you want to “keep the terrorists guessing.”
Except that PreCheck doesn’t mean no security checks. They still x-ray your bags. You still walk through the metal detector. They still check your ID, as though that has any relation to security whatsoever. All you get is a shorter line (sure a boon to terrorists who are impatient), not to have to take out off your shoes or take out your laptop (just have the TSA folks scan peoples’ feet for exposed wires and call it good), and not to have to take liquids out in their baggie for separate screening (something they almost never enforce at the regular checkpoint anyway).
You give little advantage to a trusted traveler to bring contraband through the checkpoint with the PreCheck program. And allowing those who are approved the more civilized process (that we all ought to have…) would make it possible to save time, far less deadweight loss to the economy not to mention the restoration of the dignity of the passengers headed through the checkpoint.
For now, PreCheck is merely much more pleasant that the ‘regular’ screening process. But it could be actually useful if it were more reliable.