Aiming to increase the number of travelers authorized to use
expedited TSA PreCheck lanes at airports from the current 4.6 million to 25
million, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is targeting the 36
million U.S. travelers who take three or more airline trips per year with a
marketing initiative to enhance the PreCheck brand.
At the same time, the agency, a division of Homeland
Security, said last month it will be scaling back on an airline-based program
under which carriers have been allowed to qualify some members of their
frequent flyer programs for PreCheck. Over time, airline-qualified travelers
will find that they are approved for the expedited PreCheck security lanes less
and less frequently, according to a TSA blog post in late March.
However, travelers who have “known-traveler numbers” through
Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri programs or
as a result of TSA’s own PreCheck authorization process will continue to get
expedited screening with the same frequency as in the past.
Participating airlines are encouraging their frequent
travelers to sign up for the TSA and CBP programs.
The airline-qualification program dates back to the
introduction of TSA PreCheck in 2011. To introduce travelers to the program,
airlines were allowed to invite their frequent flyer members who met certain
security criteria to opt in to a limited TSA PreCheck program.
If travelers opted in, airlines would flag their tickets for
the TSA, which would consider them for PreCheck and often give them expedited
But the agency imposed limitations. Airline-qualified
travelers could get PreCheck only when flying with the carrier that had
qualified them. And the TSA cleared those travelers for PreCheck lanes less
frequently than it cleared travelers with known-traveler numbers.
TSA Press Secretary Ross Feinstein said the agency has
warned all along that it would ratchet back on some initiatives as the number
of travelers with known-traveler numbers climbs.
Efficiency a la E-ZPass
Still, he said, the more travelers who qualify for PreCheck,
the more efficient security lines will become.
The TSA, he said, envisions a future in which many travelers
speed through TSA PreCheck, just as E-ZPass and other electronic toll
collection services have resulted in more drivers using the electronic lanes
than the less-efficient manned lanes.
The idea is to free up TSA resources to enable agents to
focus on the small minority of travelers who actually might pose a security
“The vast majority of travelers pose no threat to aviation
security,” Feinstein said.
The Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri programs, as well as
TSA’s own PreCheck initiative, are all based on vetting flyers in advance to
determine the levels of risk they might pose.
Once the TSA knows about these travelers, its agents don’t
have to spend as much time checking them when they pass through security,
enabling agents to focus on travelers less known to them.
In recent congressional testimony, Ken Fletcher, the TSA’s
chief risk officer, said these initiatives have saved the TSA $319 million in
the past two years. Much of the savings came from workforce and
The TSA has hired a professional marketing firm to help it
with brand positioning, Fletcher said. Sage Communications, a public relations,
marketing, social media and digital communications firm based in McLean, Va.,
last week identified the TSA as a client, but principals could not be reached
to verify that Sage is handling the PreCheck initiative.
The TSA, which until now has been publicizing the program
primarily through word-of-mouth and public relations efforts, is also working
to make enrollment in its own PreCheck program easier.
It now has 326 application centers nationwide, located in
airports or in IdentoGo locations operated by MorphoTrust, an identity-services
company. To enroll in CBP’s Global Entry and Sentri programs, applicants apply
online, then schedule interviews at CBP offices at airports or other locations.
Nexus applicants apply online.
In addition to qualifying travelers for TSA PreCheck, Global
Entry, which costs $100 for five years, expedites customs screening for flyers
arriving in a U.S. airport on an international flight.
Nexus, which expedites customs processing between the U.S.
and Canada, costs $50 for five years.
Sentri expedites customs processing at land borders and is
mainly aimed at vehicles. But it also includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
benefits. It costs $125 for five years.
Members of the armed forces also qualify for TSA PreCheck
because their military ID numbers count as known-traveler numbers.
Another of the TSA’s promotional tools is its “managed
inclusion” program, which is primarily designed to keep traffic moving through
security lanes. Under managed inclusion, if the PreCheck lane is empty and
travelers are waiting in the standard lane, TSA agents may direct unqualified
travelers to the PreCheck lane.
“We can’t have a PreCheck lane that screens four travelers
an hour,” Feinstein said.
Managed inclusion is also a way to introduce travelers to
TSA PreCheck. This is a double-edged sword, however, since it sometimes irks
travelers who have paid for their known-traveler status. And some lawmakers have
expressed concern that the TSA’s real-time threat assessment might not be
The TSA uses dogs, explosives-trace technology and
behavior-detection agents to vet the traveler it redirects through underused
PreCheck lanes. But a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security’s
Office of Inspector General found that a convicted felon who was also a former
member of a domestic terrorism organization was permitted to pass through a
PreCheck lane, a breach of security that Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) called
The TSA began testing new procedures for qualifying
travelers for the manual-inclusion program in February and will continue
testing through 2016.
Despite breaches, public and private support of TSA PreCheck
and known-traveler programs is high.
The TSA is also partnering with the private sector to
encourage PreCheck applications. Some examples include Loews Hotels &
Resorts, which has subsidized membership in the Global Entry program for its
elite members, and American Express, which subsidizes elite cardholders who
want either Global Entry or PreCheck.
Sabre promoted the TSA PreCheck enrollment program in GDS
ads last year.
The U.S. Travel Association’s vice president of government
relations, Patricia Rojas-Ungar, said that association members have enrolled in
TSA PreCheck and have been encouraging their customers to enroll, as well.
She said it was important for the TSA to develop a marketing
campaign to identify the PreCheck target market, adding that one proposal was
to have PreCheck enrollment centers at airports where travelers can enroll
immediately after they’ve gone through security.
One problem with that plan, however, is that applicants need
two forms of identification; most people travel with just one.
Currently, TSA PreCheck lanes are available at 120 airports,
with 11 carriers participating. Passengers or their travel agents enter the
traveler’s known-traveler number into the travel record. The TSA vets it and
then grants expedited clearance. TSA is careful to note that it can institute
additional screening for any passenger or any lane at any time.
The PreCheck program and lanes are funded by the tax
dollars, though the fees travelers pay to join known-traveler programs cover
the cost of background checks.
PreCheck is different from the priority lines that airlines
sometimes provide for their elite travelers. Priority lines are staffed by
airline personnel, and elite travelers go through the standard security check,
though they wait in a shorter line.
The TSA also determines where PreCheck lanes are located.
That decision is often based on available space, which is why, Feinstein said,
some terminals don’t have a PreCheck lane.