PreCheck: the 0.002 percent

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by TSA News Blog, Jul 9, 2012.

  1. TSA News Blog

    TSA News Blog News Feed


    In the latest round of self promotion, the TSA announced that elite US Airways passengers at Sea-Tac (Seattle) are now eligible to participate in the premium program called PreCheck. PreCheck is an ostensibly elite program that, for a fee, sometimes allows some passengers to get through security more quickly. It is not, however, all it’s cracked up to be, as we’ve noted in the past and as more recent news reports confirm.
    The TSA has piloted PreCheck screening over the past year, claiming that its employees have performed 1.8 million PreCheck screenings. This doesn’t necessarily equate to 1.8 million individual passengers, since many have been repeat beneficiaries of this special service.
    To put this in perspective, the TSA screens 1.9 million passengers a day. So it has tested PreCheck on less than one day’s worth of screening activity.
    As the TSA elite lines are becoming more visible at some major airports, routine fliers who have not attained road warrior status are beginning to grumble that while they’re paying the same amount, other people are getting preferential treatment. In a bizarre variation of PreCheck, Canadian security at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport has gone so far as to grant special treatment for American Express Platinum Card holders. If this trend continues, it doesn’t bode well for infrequent travelers (or anyone not rich enough to afford American Express Platinum).
    While the TSA promotes PreCheck as a major advance, the fact is that the program is extremely limited. The actual number of PreCheck screenings to date represents only 0.0025% of the 696,000,000 passengers who fly in the US each year.
    As it stands, PreCheck is available on a limited basis to elite fliers on only five airlines — United, U.S. Airways, Alaska, American, and Delta. So far, the low-cost non-legacy carriers Southwest, Jet Blue, and Spirit have not been invited to participate. The participating airlines must have a dominant presence at one or more of 20 designated airports.
    Keep in mind, though, that just because you’re a member of PreCheck doesn’t mean you’ll get treated the same at all airports. The same United Airlines passenger who receives special treatment at Chicago’s O’Hare might not be eligible when departing from Pittsburgh.
    The current participating airports, according to the TSA website, with FAA-reported annual volume are:
    • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI); 10.3 million/year
    • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT); 18.6 million/year
    • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) – 3.9 million/year
    • Denver International Airport (DEN) – 25.2 million/year
    • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) – 10.8 million/year
    • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 19.5 million/year
    • Honolulu International Airport (HNL) – 8.7 million/year
    • Indianapolis International Airport (IND) – 3.7 million/year
    • Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) – 6.0 million/year
    • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) – 4.0 million/year
    • Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) – 4.2 million/year
    • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) – 16.5 million/year
    • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) – 14.9 million/year
    • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) – 18.9 million/year
    • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – 3.9 million/year
    • San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – 19.3 million/year
    • Tampa International Airport (TPA) – 8.1 million/year
    • Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) – 2.3 million/year
    • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) – 11.2 million/year
    • Chicago O’Hare International (ORD)- 32.1 million/year *
    *-{O’Hare omitted from the TSA website listing but cited in announcements elsewhere
    Since PreCheck is limited to only 20 airports, the program favors those who can access the selected airports. It also benefits the airports themselves by enticing prospective PreCheck members to choose one of the select few. Consequently, a traveler in Chicago enrolled in the program will have an added incentive to fly from O’Hare rather than from Midway.
    According to 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rankings, there are 377 airports in the US. Of these, 139 are considered Primary Airports, being large, medium, and small, which handle 712 million passengers each year. By comparison, there are 238 Non-Primary Airports, such as Santa Fe, that enplane only 22.6 million passengers annually.
    The 20 PreCheck airports collectively screened 243 million passengers in 2010. Yet only 1.8 million people, or 0.7%, of those using these 20 airports were able to make use of PreCheck. Notably, the nation’s busiest airports, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL) and Los Angeles International (LAX) are not among the favored locations of this program.
    Aside from the Orwellian nightmare that a government agency has now declared “some are more equal than others,” PreCheck sets a dangerous precedent for government intrusion. It creates an advantage for some companies in a competitive private industry by encouraging customer participation in a private loyalty program.
    PreCheck allows those who spend a substantial amount of money on one of the select airlines to perhaps avoid removing their shoes and belts, perhaps skip being irradiated while a stranger inspects an image of their privates, and perhaps reduce their chances of being fondled by a TSA screener at the checkpoint.
    But as the TSA itself says:
    At no point are TSA PreCheck(TM) travelers guaranteed expedited screening.
    Unlike special treatment for soldiers traveling in uniform, pilots, flight attendants, and senior members of Congress, PreCheck selection requires membership in the loyalty program of the eligible for-profit airline, not a government entity. These frequent flier programs enable a traveler who makes frequent purchases on a particular carrier to obtain special treatment from federally operated airport security. This is equivalent to the government giving a job applicant hiring preference based on frequent purchases at Sam’s Club or membership at the “right” country club.
    The first participating airlines – United, American, and Delta have been the primary beneficiaries, as have been O’Hare, San Francisco, and Denver. Since not all airports or airlines are eligible, and some may never be eligible, those people who routinely fly on Southwest Airlines from Orlando to Detroit will be unable to enjoy the less invasive security screening that their counterparts flying on United from Chicago to Phoenix might.
    A large segment of travelers fly regularly for work, and if they are in an area with a non-select airport served by non-legacy carriers, they will spend many hours more per year in security lines than their PreCheck counterparts. This creates a disadvantage for those business travelers relative to their competitors who use favored locations.
    Many travelers are premium-level frequent fliers because they need to fly as part of their jobs. Those who have earned elite status know that the best strategy is to pick an airline with numerous flights from your home airport and always book with that airline, even if the fare is higher or schedule less favorable. For those who fly diverse routes from multiple airports, their activity with one airline is diluted, hindering their ability to reach elite mileage with an airline despite their flying over 100,000 miles per year.
    This is an instance of a government program providing a business advantage to certain select companies and preferential treatment to a group of people based on their participation and expenditures with those companies. Aside from the legal implications, this program is divisive and will only further separate the privileged from the ordinary citizen.
    As with most TSA initiatives, PreCheck exists primarily for PR purposes. It’s devoid of any security benefit. And it’s another example of Washington indifference to the public.
    The PreCheck concept and its approach are structurally flawed. In order for it to have any impact in expediting screening, hundreds of millions of “trusted travelers” would have to be vetted, at enormous cost to travelers and taxpayers. And even then, to repeat what the TSA has said, it wouldn’t guarantee expedited screening to anyone.
    Instead of wasting money trying to approve staggering numbers of fliers, the TSA should be focused on identifying its first real terrorist, something that so far, after ten years, it has still failed to do.
    (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/UggBoyUggGirl)
  2. Doober

    Doober Original Member

    Bill, in the article you mention that "senior members of Congress" get a pass from the TSA. I've read comments by others at other sites indicating this is so. My question: is this something new that I missed or has it always been so?

    Further, what makes a congressperson "senior?"
  3. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Some people are more equal than others. Guess where Members of Congress think they fall on that scale?
    Elizabeth Conley likes this.
  4. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    If there is a system in place for special treatment of some passengers, it will be easy to hide the special treatment of anyone in position of power, Congressmen, senators, judges, etc. As soon as it isn't too obvious, all of these folks will disappear into the special category, thus eliminating a huge threat to the TSA.
    Elizabeth Conley likes this.
  5. Elizabeth Conley

    Elizabeth Conley Original Member

    I think Pistole has figured out that positive PR resulting from demonstrating "everyone must be screened" is outweighed by the consequences of infuriating federal legislators.

    Sure, he's giving the politicians a free pass.
  6. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    Yet Southwest's enplanements (counting merger partner AirTran) are significantly higher (18% higher in the most recent month for which data is available) than Delta, yet the country's largest airline is mostly excluded from this because their reliance on focus cities rather than true hubs means they will have a "dominant presence" at very few airports.

    This should ensure a permanent supply of grannies & other kettles to be groped, poked and prodded by the perverts in blue.
  7. Can someone explain something to me?

    I've seen this sort of thing a couple times on

    This was in ORD. What does this mean, exactly? Somebody is enrolled in PreCheck, and then they can just get denied for no apparent reason? Does it have to do with when you're automatically enrolled in PreCheck by the airline?
  8. Doober

    Doober Original Member

    It means the poor schmuck got the to airport and his/her PreCheck status was not invoked, meaning he/she was forced to mingle with the unwashed masses. I see that the person in question was able to find a lane with WTMD.
  9. "Not invoked"? Like, you pay your money, get your status, and then just, "sorry, not today"? Wow. When people talked about "no guarantee" that you get your special screening, I thought it meant the smurfs could still decide you looked suspicious or something and screen you more. Worse than I even thought.
  10. Doober

    Doober Original Member

    You got it!
  11. Fisher1949

    Fisher1949 Original Member Coach

    Basically, the House Speaker (Boehner) and Senate Majority Leader (Reid) are exempt form screening. Also any senior member, e.g. not the junior Senator, when traveling with SS protection. Also this can apply to Committee Chairs, like Peter King, who is the House member overseeing TSA and an ardent defender. Of course, he's doesn't get the groping so its no big deal to him.
  12. saulblum

    saulblum Original Member

    Nope. From all that I have read, in the terminals where PreCheck has been set up, you will not know if you can go to the special lane until your boarding pass is scanned.

    I like to give the following analogy: Imagine a freeway with a special lane that lets you go 20mph faster than the usual speed limit, and in which traffic generally moves long much faster. Only drivers who have driven at least 50,000 miles a year can use it, but you won't actually find out if you can use it, and have a shorter trip, until you actually get on the freeway.

    That's PreCheck for you.
  13. jackonferry

    jackonferry Original Member

    If you have decided to participate in PreCheck (or been invited by an airline), for each trip you take, you are given a risk score. Have a low risk score and you get PreCheck. Have a high risk score, you don't get PreCheck for that trip. You won't know what your PreCheck status is until your boarding pass is scanned at the airport. What contributes to a low risk score? Having Global Entry; flying a fair amount; your destination; the profile of the other passengers on the plane(s) with you; and probably several other factors.

    By the way, you don't have to pay any money to participate in PreCheck. You can pay $100 and get approved for Global Entry. Global Entry will not only help you re-enter the country more quickly, but (because of the fingerprints and background investigation) will likely improve your chances with PreCheck. But, you can still get PreCheck without paying anything.
  14. saulblum

    saulblum Original Member

    Nonsense. The other way to be selected for PreCheck is to have status on one of the chosen airlines. Oftentimes passengers will pay a higher fare on their chosen airline, even when cheaper options are available on other airlines, to help them attain miles and status, with all the airline's benefits of having status.

    In the view of DHS, a passenger who flies 100,000 miles a year all on one airline, sometimes paying more for sticking to the same airline, is intrinsically less of a risk than the same passenger who flies 100,000 miles distributed across several airlines. You can make the fair argument that paying extra to stick to one airline has its benefits, but the government should not be awarding, and providing better service to, passengers who continually patronize only one particular private company's services.
  15. Thanks, jackonferry, for the thorough explanation! Very helpful to my understanding.
  16. jackonferry

    jackonferry Original Member

    We'll have to agree to disagree on your first point. Frequent flying is not required for participation in PreCheck, although the airlines are implementing it differently, and some have implemented in a way that starts with their biggest flyers. Frequent flying will reduce your risk score, but it is not required. As to people who stick with one airline or pay higher fares for doing so, that is irrelevant. People were doing it long before PreCheck existed and will continue to do it as the program is unrolled and expanded.

    Your second point is an interesting one. One of the reasons the program was left in the hands of the airlines is because TSA did not want to ask for any new budget authority for developing a trusted traveler program. By leaving it is an airline program TSA avoids a lot of implementation costs out of its budget. But that comes at the expense of PreCheck being able to communicate across airlines.
  17. Fisher1949

    Fisher1949 Original Member Coach

    Which was a central point in the post. A 100K mile flier on Southwest isn't eligible since Southwest isn't a selected carrier, but a 75K mile Medallion elite status traveler on Delta would qualify. Maybe TSA has a lower opinion of Southwest/AirTran passengers, i.e. the unwashed masses on those airlines don't deserve any special treatment.

    Classic government stupidity.
  18. saulblum

    saulblum Original Member

    But even if the TSA is not funding it, the costs for airlines to integrate their internal systems with those of the TSA come at a cost. A cost that will inevitably be built into the airfare that all passengers pay. Someone is paying the developers for their time to do the necessary coding.

    It is very relevant. As private companies, airlines are free to dole out whatever benefits they want to their best customers. That is very different from the federal government doling out significant benefits to passengers who choose to repeatedly patronize a private company.

    Take a passenger who has flown around 25,000 miles a year for the past decade, scattered across multiple airlines. Take a second passenger who flew 100,000 miles each of the past two years on one airline. In what possible universe other than the warped one of DHS is the latter passenger deemed less of a risk than the former?
  19. saulblum

    saulblum Original Member

    You can't make this stuff up.
  20. jackonferry

    jackonferry Original Member

    I am not trying to defend the program. I am merely trying to relay information about how it operates and how it originated. It is a confusing program and people are uncertain about how it operates. It is, however, expanding. It will soon cover more airlines and more airports, substantially increasing the number of people who use it or have access to it.

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