When I arrived at Atlanta Hartsfield airport on my return home Thursday night, it was jammed. No surprise there — it’s one of the busiest airports in the world.
It’s also the first airport I’ve been through that has the TSA pre-check passengers using an entirely different checkpoint area than other travelers. Usually, we’re in the same area, with a direct pre-check lane and a winding “standard passengers” lane. In Atlanta, though, the pre-checkers turn right and the standard passengers turn left.
Having to check-in in Atlanta also demonstrated the great convenience value of pre-check status. At less busy airports like Columbus, the regular line usually isn’t too bad, and pre-check status might save you five minutes of waiting time, tops. In busy airports like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Denver, on the other hand, the difference in wait time between pre-check and standard can be enormous. I was traveling with a co-worker on my Atlanta trip, who said he had to wait in a line to even get into the standard passenger line at the TSA check-point. It look him an hour longer to pass through standard check-in than it took me to go through the pre-check line. That obviously sucks from a stress and frustration standpoint, but even worse, when you’re in a huge airport, an hour can be the difference between making your flight and missing it.
And guess what? Even the TSA is acknowledging that lines are long, and are likely to get worse as spring and summer arrive and more people are traveling. The TSA says it’s due to budget cuts and efforts to improve the thoroughness of screenings; the news media has reported that the process has been slowed down because tests have shown failures to identify weapons making it through check points. In any case, it made me glad, once again, that I spent the time, and the $85, to get pre-check status. On the busy days in the big American airports, it’s worth every penny.
I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and I’ve encountered some long lines going through the TSA checkpoints. They suck, frankly. So I’ve thought about how to deal with the issue in the classic American fashion — by paying more money to avoid the lines.
That’s right: I’ve decided to go over to the Dark Side of getting TSA PreCheck clearance.
So today, Kish and I stopped in one of those humble, entirely anonymous five-story office buildings that you find among the strip malls — the kind of generic space filled with plastic potted plants that probably is an incredibly depressing place to work — to go through the PreCheck clearance process. After waiting for a while, we presented our passports, answered a few questions about our lack of felony convictions and general mental health, gave the government our fingerprints, and then paid $85 each for the privilege of avoiding the regular TSA lines and keeping our shoes on and fluids in our bags when we go through security.
In all, the actual interview process took about five minutes. We’re supposed to get our TSA PreCheck numbers in a few weeks.
Interesting, isn’t it, that we pay the government $85 to collect our fingerprints and allow us to avoid lines that the government security procedures have created? Nice work if you can get it! I couldn’t find any information about how many people have coughed up the cash for PreCheck, but I imagine its a good moneymaker for the feds — and if it keeps me from standing forever in lines, listening to TSA personnel shouting at those in the queue to remove their laptops, place them in separate bins, etc., etc., the $85 is worth it.
When I printed out my boarding pass yesterday, I noticed a new legend at the top that indicated I had been “pre-checked” by the Transportation Security Administration.
I didn’t know what it meant, so when I got to the airport I got in the standard line to show my boarding pass and driver’s license. The TSA officer who checked me explained that the “pre-check” program meant I didn’t need to wait in the normal line and could go through security without removing my shoes, belt, bag of toothpaste, and laptop. He gave me a pre-printed card that explains the program, which also is described here. It appears that, because I’m a frequent traveler, the TSA thinks they have sufficient information about me to waive certain of the security protocols.
So, I dropped my keys, cellphone, and other electronic gizmos in the plastic bin and put it on the conveyor belt and went through the scanner belt, shoes, suit coat, and all. It was a whiff of the heady old days, before the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber and other would-be terrorists added new rules and new steps to the security process.
Going through security took about two minutes. I enjoyed not having to partially disrobe, and I particular appreciated not having to hurriedly belt up, don shoes, fish out keys, and reinsert laptop in the scrum of passengers who’ve passed through the scanner, as bag after bin after bag come slamming off the conveyor.
I’m all for the pre-check program.