Last updated: 03:51 PM ET, Wed January 13 2016

Is the TSA's Precheck Program Too Popular?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 13, 2016

Is the TSA's Precheck Program Too Popular?

The TSA’s Precheck program, first announced in 2013, has now reached two million members. The program promises an expedited process at airport security checkpoints. Members can pass through a special checkpoint, and they do not have to be as thoroughly screened as regular passengers. For example, they won't be asked to remove shoes, belts or laptops, and they won't have to abide by the liquid carry-on rules.

In late 2013, the TSA hired ID firm MorphoTrust to handle the screening process for new applicants. The contractor succeeded in making the process much more convenient, and the idea has really taken off over the past year. In March of 2015, Precheck had one million approved applicants. The membership numbers passed two million at the end of last week.  

More convenience…

Expedited security screening seems like a good idea for frequent travelers, and, obviously, more and more people are taking advantage of it, even though there is an application fee of $85 (which covers the first five years of membership in the program). 

RELATED: TSA Vows Increased Sensitivity to Transgender Fliers

There have been complaints about the process of screening people before they are given clearance to join the program. Applicants first have to apply online. They then have to schedule a face-to-face meeting at an application center where they present identity documents like a birth certificate or passport and have their fingerprints taken. MorphoTrust now has applications centers nationwide. The program has proven so popular that the firm sometimes decides to set up temporary centers at colleges or travel company offices to meet demand.

…and more controversy

The program started with only two application centers, so the higher level of convenience and accessibility that is now available has certainly helped to create more interest in the program and bring in more members. Passengers on most major airlines that operate in the U.S. can use their Precheck status to get through security quickly. The program is available at 150 airports, including all major hubs in the country.   

However, some critics, including the ACLU, have called the screening process unnecessarily invasive. They have also cited cases where applications were denied without giving the person a reason for the denial or a chance to appeal the decision. Others have even suggested that applicants were denied based solely on their race. 

Continued growth could bring new issues

Obviously, judging by the rapid increase in the number of Precheck applications, many people are willing to trade privacy for convenience. This could actually lead to another issue that could eventually hurt the program. At some airports, the special Precheck checkpoints are becoming more and more crowded. The point of applying for the program is to avoid waiting to pass through security. Members sometimes find that they end up waiting in line behind their Precheck peers anyway. The lines at the special checkpoints are almost always shorter, but they are lines nonetheless.  

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Even if you have to spend a few extra minutes in line, the Precheck process is still much faster than waiting to pass through a standard checkpoint at a busy airport during peak flying hours. However, as the number of members increases, so will the potential wait time at the special checkpoints. This added inconvenience could mean that, in the future, the program might not seem like as sweet of a deal as it once was.   


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