Kudos to TSA Administrator John Pistole and his team for launching “Pre-Check,” the new trusted traveler program developed by TSA with assistance from CBP and the travel community. The pilot is expected to handle only a small fraction of the travelers at the 4 participating airports (Miami, Dallas, Detroit, and Atlanta) but it is a necessary step toward building a program that can eventually handle perhaps 50% of the daily traffic at our domestic airports. Eligible participants include certain frequent flyers from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines and members of CBP’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens and are flying on Delta and American.
The medium and long term budget situation for TSA is dire. Expected traffic increases in domestic aviation as the economy recovers will swamp the current “one-size-fits-all” screening unless TSA receives significant increases in budget authority. TSA has requested increases in the security ticket fee and the Obama Administration has proposed significant increases in these fees as part of its deficit reduction proposals. However, Congress has rejected ticket tax increases for many years and TSA must build a strategy that does more with less.
Moreover, with 10 years of experience since 9/11, it is time for DHS and TSA to develop a real trusted traveler program that recognizes that while we cannot eliminate all risk in the aviation system, passengers do present significantly different risk profiles. The young, the elderly, families, and frequent business travelers are much less likely to present a risk than others. Those who have willingly submitted information for a biometric and biographic checks of criminal and terrorist databases are much less likely to present a risk than those that have not.
Our economy is struggling and certainly a streamlined TSA is only one small solution to economic woes. However, legitimate research has shown that both casual and business travelers are foregoing aviation travel due to concerns about security delays, hurting business productivity and tourist industries. The specter of an intimidating and time-consuming TSA experience has also helped deter foreign visitors from wanting to tour the US via domestic flights. A smarter TSA can help generate economic recovery.
The pilot program will help train TSA employees on how to screen low-risk travelers and help airports and airlines develop queuing mechanisms to sort passengers according to their likely risk. Hopefully a year from now, we will see a nationwide network of Pre-Check locations open to all travelers willing to submit to a background check, without respect to their relationship with a particular airline, including foreign travelers who are enrolled in CBP’s programs. Today’s launch is an excellent first step on that road.