“It's game-changing. Amazing. It's the best.”
In the 11 years since Al-Qaeda terrorists used passenger planes as weapons on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, air travelers have rarely used such words to describe the airport security experience. But that could be changing at airports across the country.
“It honestly has changed everything,” says Neal Lassila, a tech company executive, describing how easily he sails through security now thanks to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program.
Lassila was interviewed by Transportation Nation after taking all of 90 seconds to pass through a new screening checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington that was built specifically for PreCheck “known travelers.”
“I travel quite a bit so getting in and out of security was a bit of a hassle,” the Los Angeles resident said.
Lassila didn’t have to take off his shoes or belt -- or even open his bag -- on the way through the checkpoint. He had been pre-screened after successfully applying for the TSA program through his airline as a frequent flier. His ‘known traveler’ number is now embedded in the bar code of his boarding pass.
TSA officials invited reporters to attend a news conference inside the Dulles main terminal on Tuesday to check out the new checkpoint and interview travelers who have been accepted into the PreCheck program, which marks a shift in the one-size-fits-all security template used on all travelers after 9/11.
“I had to give them my driver’s license, a working passport, and I had to show them my birth certificate to prove who I was and that the documents matched me,” said Rich Hubner, a Virginia resident who travels frequently for his environmental science career.
Hubner applied for the PreCheck expedited screening program through the government’s Global Entry system which requires a short, in-person interview with security personnel to verify his identity. Becoming eligible for the program removed all the hassle of long lines at security checkpoints.
“Cooler minds have prevailed finally,” he said.
Dulles is the 26th airport where PreCheck is operating. TSA hopes to expand the program to 35 airports by the end of the year. Three million passengers have been screened through PreCheck to date, according to TSA administrator John Pistole. But he said Dulles is a special case. “Dulles International is the first airport in the nation to build a new checkpoint that is dedicated only to TSA PreCheck operations,” he said at the news conference. “If we have determined that a passenger is eligible for expedited screening, that information will have been embedded on the bar code of your boarding pass.”
There are some caveats: only frequent fliers of certain airlines, like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways or Alaska Airlines are eligible right now. And pre-screened passengers won't necessarily fly through security every time. The TSA website warns that the agency "will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening."
To see a list of airports that have PreCheck, go here.