The TSA’s New “Expedited” Choose Your Own Checkpoint Screening Adventure

I had a TSA screening experience unlike any other, not bad mind you just new and different.

I was departing Charleston, South Carolina and was happy to have discovered a few days earlier that TSA Secure Flight information transfers over well from American’s booking engine to US Airways flights. I had booked an American Airlines codeshare flying US Airways at AA.com in order to use an American voucher, and still managed to get PreCheck when flying US Airways.

I knew I had read that Charleston now had PreCheck, in one of the batches of 60 airports added in the fall. So when I approached the checkpoint at about 2pm and there was no PreCheck lane, I asked.

The travel document checker told me that

  • they only open the PreCheck lane when it’s “really busy.”
  • but if my boarding pass beeped I could do Expedited Screening.

I hadn’t heard of that. He explained that he would make a mark on my boarding pass.

I should hold it out so that the agents manning the checkpoint knew I was eligible to leave my jacket and shoes on, but that I’d have to take my laptop and liquids out for separate inspection (I still use a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag and don’t actually have to take it out).

So far, so good. But the screening lane fed into a nude-o-scope. I got to the front and said, “oh.” And was told, “well, if you don’t want to go through the machine just say so and we’ll put you through the metal detector’. Yes, please.

This was my first ‘opt out’ where opting out just meant choosing to use the metal detector instead.

Of course, this is also an airport where the police ride their bikes indoors.

Signage said I’d be accosted by a dog (the dogs are usually well-trained, their handlers not always) but there wasn’t actually a dog roaming the terminal.

Which reminds me of American Airlines’ Bob Crandall supposedly firing a guard dog, and playing a tape recording of a dog barking instead.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ll confess my vanity — I sometimes post a photo of my boarding pass to Facebook and show my friends I’m going places. 😉

    Just curious: Is it really necessary to redact the frequent flyer number? What’s the worst someone could do, steal the miles?

  2. The real news here is that you were able to use an AA voucher on US metal at AA.com. I was unable to do this just a week ago and was told by an agent that the system wasn’t yet set up to enable this.

    Did you notice any pricing discrepancies between the AA.com price and the US.com or aggregate search (ITA) prices? I have been having huge issues with this. US fares pricing out super cheap on US.com; 50% or more higher for same metal with AA codeshare at AA.com.

  3. I flew through HNL recently. Friendly, fast. I opted out. ‘Male Assist’ came up with a smile, put on new gloves, and gave me an easy patdown. I commented that he should train the mainland crews. He chuckled and said that everyone says that.
    Put IAD to shame.

  4. @CW – the lower price for US flights priced by US rather than AA was an issue, but seems to have mostly been fixed. Had no problem using my voucher at aa.com for an aa codeshare on us metal.

  5. I experienced something similar at RSW a couple weeks ago. Pre-check lane was closed, but when I got up to the ID checker and got three beeps, they gave me a pink card that I was supposed to display when I got to the metal detector, allowing me to keep shoes on. I think everything else still had to come out of the bag.

    I’ll take what I can get, but seemed like more effort for the TSA for less benefit for me. Not that I should be surprised by that…

  6. They do “Expedited Screening” at Amarillo, too. It’s really just a pain in the ass because it’s not regular, and it’s not PreCheck, so no one knows what to do.

  7. Same thing at Columbia, SC (CAE) a couple of weeks ago! The TSA officer has to verify whether or not you have precheck, and that’s what determines whether you keep your shoes on or off, but you are in the regular line. Bizarre.

  8. Harrisburg (MDT) goes one step further, especially if you are a business traveler flying out on Monday mornings. The airport has the “Susquehanna Club”, which is free to join if you have ANY status on any of the airlines that fly into MDT (US, DL, UA, AA). What you get is entry into their small lounge, but more importantly, get a “membership card” that fits on your key ring that allows you to go to the crew / employe entrance. That’s a real nice bennie when trying to make a 6:00 am flight on Monday. If you have Pre-check you get the expedited line with metal detector. Also, if you stop by the lounge, they keep track of your spending in on airfare and parking and reward you semi-annually with trinkets, or free parking days if you really travel a lot.

  9. LGA last week, got to security after precheck closed. Asked when it closed, and doc checker told me I could keep shoes,jacket on and leave laptop in bag, just to tell the other TSA employee manning the WTMD that I was precheck. Walked through with no issues. Never ever experienced that before.

  10. Experienced expedited screening at PHX and EWR recently when they did not have a dedicated Pre-Check lane open. This was a nice bonus as even being able to leave my shoes on saves some hassle.

  11. Had a similar experience at ORD (of all places) last week. Went to the non-Precheck line as I was directed by an agent. TSA officer said his location was ‘partial’ Precheck and to do the same things you mentioned. Was almost shocked!

    Eric

  12. Getting back on topic (thanks Gary for the info on previous comment), it seems to me that with the stated high level TSA policy goal of getting I believe 85% of people in a “precheck type” program, they are probably just using small airports and/or off hours to explore the logistics of different methods of implementation.

  13. Just went through the same thing at DCA about 10 minutes ago. I got here before the Precheck lane on the north concourse was open. I asked, and when I asked, they said I could go through the detector.

    They didn’t tell me my laptop had to come out until after my bag had gone into the scanner, so there was much eye-rolling on their part and a rerunning of my briefcase.

    Now this makes five different airport security drills whose steps I have to remember:

    1. Precheck screening (shoes and jacket on, laptop in)
    2. Expedited screening (shoes and jacket on, laptop out)
    3. Traveling with a child (shoes and jacket off, laptop out, metal detector, other random rules they make up as they go)
    4. Airports without nude-o-scopes, eg, BHM, JAN, (shoes and jacket off, laptop out)
    5. Regular old nude-o-scope process.

  14. I’ve been having a really troubling experience at BOS recently. The dedicated pre-check lane has been up and running for about a year. This used to be great, and operate the way it was intended, however, lately they’ve been letting anyone go through the pre-check screening (meaning keep on your shoes and jackets and not remove laptops and liquids). Yes, there’s still the pre-check-only line to get the three beeps, but then where there used to be a dedicated metal detector and baggage screening belt just for pre-check, they now allow absolutely anyone from any TSA Agent’s line to choose the pre-check screening. For one, this is a pain as it means the pre-check line moves just as slow as the regular lines (what did I pay $100 and go through the interview and background check for?), but it also means that they are essentially choosing people at random for reduced scrutiny, rather than the other way around. They are not trusted travelers, yet they are being treated as if they are. WTF?

  15. Just had this happen to me in PHX. Traveling on a Sunday afternoon, was probably one of only 20 people in the whole terminal. I asked about Pre-Check since it looked like the lane was closed and was told I can leave shoes/jacket on, just need to remove belt/liquids/laptop.

  16. I had a similar experience departing EGE a couple of weeks ago. They handed me a special brightly colored card which allowed me to keep my shoes on. Laptop still had to come out though.

  17. I’ve run into the quasi-precheck system several times. One of my home airports ORF gives you a special sticker on your boarding pass so you can keep your shoes on. Laptop, liquids, etc still have to come out of the bag

    MLB has a similar approach, but they give you a bright pink card to indicate that you can keep your shoes on.

  18. The only time I’ve encountered this was flying Virgin out of BOS, where they have a dedicated security checkpoint given how small their operations are (I think there are only 2 gates past that checkpoint). There was a separate precheck line leading up to the ID checker and then I was handed a PreCheck piece of paper (after the 3 beeps) to hold while walking through the metal detector and that paper allowed me to keep coat and shoes on.

    I’m not positive on the situation with laptops and such but I believe it was standard PreCheck treatment because of how small the checkpoint is and the agents can easily bifurcate carryons as they roll down the belt

  19. AA does this at EWR Terminal A. They hand you a colored card and put you in the priority lane (even if you don’t have priority), and then they do a “pre-check lite” where you get to leave your shoes on and just use the metal detector.

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