TSA Opens New ‘Pre-Check’ Enrollment Centers

 - January 6, 2014, 1:35 PM
TSA Administrator John Pistole addresses an aviation security conference the Air Line Pilots Association and A4A sponsored in Washington, D.C., on December 17. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last month opened the first of 300 planned application centers for its “Pre-Check” expedited screening program, which allows members to pass through airport security checkpoints without removing their shoes, laptop computers and other personal items. The agency expects the centers to boost enrollment in Pre-Check; previously the program covered mainly airline frequent fliers and travelers enrolled in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency’s Global Entry program.

Following the December 4 opening of the first Pre-Check application site, located at Indianapolis International Airport, the TSA planned to open several other centers in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas by the end of last year. The agency plans to accelerate the roll-out of application sites this year. Some, although not all, of the sites will be at airports.

“The goal is to have as many people who care to sign up,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said during an aviation security conference in Washington, D.C., on December 17. “We’re trying to capture that market of 210-plus million U.S. citizens who don’t have passports, who still fly domestically.”

Under the new application process, U.S. citizens can pre-enroll for the program online and visit an application center to verify their identities and provide fingerprints. Once the TSA approves an application–in a matter of weeks or even days, according to Pistole–the agency issues the applicant a “known traveler number,” which allows that person to use the Pre-Check security lanes at the 107 participating airports. The agency charges an $85 application fee for a five-year membership. Also, on December 19, the TSA said that it extended Pre-Check enrollment to include active-duty and reserve members of the U.S. military services, the National Guard and the Coast Guard, based on their Department of Defense identification numbers.

The TSA plans also to expand the overall number of Pre-Check lanes; it now operates 250 full-time lanes and another 200 lanes the agency administers part-time, said Pistole, speaking at the aviation security conference. In the past, airport executives have expressed concern that Pre-Check lanes didn’t get used enough because of lagging enrollment in the program. The TSA has worked to balance airport security lines by moving certain people from regular lanes to Pre-Check lanes, a practice it calls “managed inclusion.” That practice will be scaled back as more people enroll in Pre-Check. “How do we accommodate the vast majority of people who are assessed as low-risk and how do we make sure that we are processing all of those passengers in a timely manner? The last thing we want to happen is that it takes longer to get through TSA Pre-Check than it does a regular line,” Pistole said.

The TSA will also shift some of its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams to airports in the wake of the November 1 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport that claimed the life of the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty. Previously, “two-thirds” of the 37 VIPR teams were dedicated to surface transportation hubs, Pistole said.