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Sep
20

Hate full-body scans? For $100, you can now bypass the hassle

Hate the full-body scans, pat-downs and slow going at TSA airport security screening checkpoints? For $100, you can now bypass the hassle, yep, you heard me.

TSA pat down

TSA pat down

I know, I know, who doesn’t love the roving gloved mitts up and down your inner thighs, long lines, removing shoes?  But believe it or not for $100 bucks you can avoid it all.

The Transportation Security Administration has come up with a new thing at big airports called “Precheck.” It has special lanes for background-checked travelers, who can keep their shoes, belt and jacket on, leave laptops and liquids in carry-on bags and walk through a metal detector rather than a full-body scan. The process, now at two airlines and nine airports, is much like how screenings worked before the Sept. 11 attacks.

no thanks

no thanks

Wait a sec? Do we really want that? I mean, I’d rather take off my shoes and receive a pat than have my plane taken over by crazed religious extremists fighting their dumb war by proxy.

Qualifications

So how do you  qualify?  Frequent fliers must meet undisclosed TSA criteria and get invited in by the airlines. There is also a backdoor in. Approved travelers who are in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “Global Entry” program can transfer into Precheck using their Global Entry number. I’ve seen these people bragging out their global entry and i have to say I was envious as hell.

global entry

global entry

“It’s a completely different experience than what you’re used to,” said Matt Stegmeir, a platinum-level Delta Air Lines Inc. frequent flier who was invited into Precheck when it opened at his home airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul. You zip through security and TSA leave you alone.

It reminds you just how much security is in place already, which is a good thing. We want security, remember that.

Global Entry has been extremely popular with frequent international travelers. For example, approved travelers use a kiosk to enter the country rather than waiting in long lines to get their passports stamped and go through Customs inspection.

airport lines

airport lines

If you consider the average  wait at Terminal 1 at New York’s Kennedy International Airport averaged 44 minutes in January for people arriving between 10 and 11 a.m.

So how do you get in? Enrolling requires a $100 application fee for a background check, plus a brief interview with a Customs officer.

For domestic travel, Global Entry pays off because it gets you into  what’s called Precheck. And now that TSA announced that enrollment in Global Entry and CBP’s other “trusted travel” programs (Nexus for frequent travel across the Canadian border and Sentri for frequent travel across the Mexican border) would get you into Precheck, applications for Global Entry went crazy.

Global-Entry-Machine!!

Global-Entry-Machine!!

In February, for example, 26,602 people applied, more than triple the number of applications in February 2011, according to CBP. And February applications were up 42% from January as more and more travelers catch on.

“We want as many people as possible in the program,” said John Wagner, CBP’s executive director of admissibility and passenger programs.

TSA Precheck logo

TSA Precheck logo

TSA says it also wants as many people as possible in Precheck, which is still in pilot-testing phase. Both agencies say the programs can enhance screening of people they know nothing about if they can move low-risk people who submit to background checks out of the main queues. So it’s actually working to help catch terrorists as well as making your life easier.

“We can reduce the size of the haystack when we are looking for that one-in-a-billion terrorist,” said TSA Administrator John Pistole.

Mr. Pistole, an FBI veteran who took over TSA in 2010, said that by studying frequent-flier histories as well as conducting background checks, he’s confident the U.S. now has the technology and the intelligence information to make less-rigorous, faster screening work.

keeps on checking

keeps on checking

Once in Precheck, TSA still checks names against terrorism watch lists before every flight, just as it does for other travelers. If a passenger is cleared for Precheck screening, a code is embedded in a traveler’s boarding pass.

First-Class-Check-In

First-Class-Check-In

Precheck members usually get to use security lines for first-class, lucky buggers.

But don’t get too cocky, the TSA says Precheck members are selected randomly for regular screening to enhance security and that irks a lot of passengers, because you just never know.

Gary Kaminsky, who travels 100,000 miles a year domestically, says he’s gotten Precheck screening on about 80% of his trips so far out of Los Angeles International Airport, his home base, on AMR Corp.’s American Airlines. “When it does work, it’s phenomenal,” he said. “It cuts security screening down to about 30 seconds.”

For now, travelers say Precheck lanes are almost always empty—no waiting. In fact, Precheck may be making regular lines longer since equipment and officers are devoted to a little-used lane.

pre-check!

pre-check!

Currently, TSA is working with only two airlines, American and Delta, because they were able to handle computing requirements set by TSA for the frequent-flier aspect. Even if you get into Precheck through Global Entry, it will currently only work for you on American and Delta domestic flights at airports with Precheck lanes.

Also, Precheck lanes are in place only at nine airports. Currently, American passengers can use it in Dallas-Fort Worth, New York Kennedy, Los Angeles and Miami. Delta passengers have Precheck access in Atlanta, Detroit and Salt Lake City. Passengers on both airlines can use Precheck in Las Vegas and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Later this month, Precheck is set to expand to Washington’s Reagan National Airport for Delta passengers and certain members of the U.S. military, and Chicago O’Hare with American.

global entry

global entry

Mr. Pistole said Precheck will be in place at 35 airports and six airlines, covering most major U.S. airports and airlines.

Here’s a breakdown of the programs:

Precheck

What it is: Expedited airport security screening

Best perks: Leaves shoes, belt and jacket on; liquids and laptop remain in bag. Walk-through metal detector instead of full body scan.

Agency: Transportation Security Administration

Who is eligible: Certain frequent fliers from Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and certain members of Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, Sentri, and Nexus. For domestic flights only so far. It’s voluntary and you have to opt in.

Best way in: Ask your airline if you are already eligible. Otherwise, apply for Global Entry and then update your profile at airlines with your Global Entry number and click to opt into Precheck.

Cost: Free.

Where is it available:Certain checkpoints in Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York Kennedy, Miami and Los Angeles. More cities and airlines coming.

Number of people enrolled: TSA won’t disclose

Number of applicants rejected: TSA won’t disclose

Most obvious disqualifiers: Non-U.S. citizens, anyone on a terrorism watch list.

Global Entry

What it is: Expedited immigration and customs screening when entering the U.S.

Best perks: No lines. Walk up to a kiosk, get a paper receipt showing clearance and you’re on your way. Reduces the time to enter the country by 70%.

Agency: Customs and Border Protection

Who is eligible: Preapproved, low-risk international travelers

Best way in: Apply online at globalentry.gov. There is no minimum international trip requirement. You provide personal information and submit to a background check, then go to an airport for an interview with a CBP officer, plus photographing and fingerprinting.

Cost: $100 application fee

Where is it available: 24 U.S. airports covering 97% of international air arrivals

Number of people enrolled: 278,000 as of March 1

Percentage of applicants rejected: 3%

Most obvious disqualifiers: Conviction of a criminal offense or violation of Customs, Immigration or Agriculture regulations or laws; being subject of a law-enforcement investigation or having pending criminal charges or warrants.

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