Logan checks to get simpler
The long lines at airport security may get shorter, at least for passengers the government believes are not a threat.
Starting Tuesday, designated travelers will not have to remove their shoes, take off their belts and coats, or pull laptops and liquids out of their carry-on bags when they go through security in Terminal A at Logan International Airport — part of a new Transportation Security Administration program that streamlines the process so security personnel can do “a better job of looking for those rare characters that may want to cause trouble on a flight,” said George Naccara, the TSA’s federal security director at Logan.
The program, called PreCheck, was launched in October and was established in 15 US airports before it came to Logan; since then, 1.4 million passengers have passed through designated PreCheck security lanes. Once the program is fully implemented nationwide, up to 70 percent of all airline passengers could be using PreCheck, according to the TSA.
PreCheck expedites the entire security process for selected passengers; that compares with paid services offered by private companies, which simply allow passengers who pay for the privilege to skip to the head of security lines, where they must then go through the customary screening. None of those private programs are currently in operation at Logan.
With PreCheck, prescreened passengers enter a separate security lane, then pass through metal detectors without needing to remove their shoes or pull out their shampoo and other liquids in plastic baggies. The selected passengers will also not be sent through body scanners, Naccara said, but that might change as new software is deployed that shows screeners a “Gumby-shaped” image of the passenger — rather than a more literal view of the human body — and cuts down the scanning time to a few seconds.
PreCheck does not guarantee each qualified passenger a trip through the expedited security process. For security purposes, individual travelers won’t know whether they will be greenlighted for the expedited lane until they get to the security checkpoint before boarding a flight.
There is no charge for the PreCheck program, but currently, only passengers who are already members of the US Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler Programs, or select frequent fliers who have been screened by the TSA, are eligible. The Customs programs, which have 1.3 million members, charge between $50 and $122 every five years for faster entry into the United States. Members must undergo background checks, interviews, and provide fingerprints.
Select frequent fliers — generally, those who have flown more than 50,000 miles or have taken a certain number of trips — can also apply for the PreCheck program. Nationwide, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines are the only airlines participating so far; US Airways and United Airlines will be on board later this year. In Boston, where only Delta is participating so far, the airline is inviting an undisclosed number of frequent fliers to be part of the program, then providing information about those passengers to the TSA for further screening. The TSA will examine each individual’s travel history and if it determines there is no threat, the individual will be granted PreCheck clearance.
The TSA may open PreCheck up to other groups, including active duty military personnel, that are already participating at several airports.
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, has added a ninth checkpoint line in Terminal A to accommodate the PreCheck program. Between 700 and 1,000 people a day are expected to pass through the designated lane.
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group based in Pennsylvania, said that although PreCheck is a step in the right direction, its security measures should include fingerprinting and iris scans to prove the identity of travelers.
Business travelers are also seeking a program that guarantees they will get through security quickly every time, according to Mitchell. “With PreCheck, you do not know until you have arrived at the airport if you are cleared that day for such expedited security facilitation,” he said. “So, consequently, you leave your customer’s office early because it’s uncertain what the security protocol will be that day.”
As a Customs Trusted Traveler and Delta frequent flier who racks up more than 125,000 miles a year, Yossi Sheffi, director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, enrolled in PreCheck and has used the expedited security lane in Atlanta. Sheffi, who specializes in security, said it makes sense to take some of the burden of antiterrorism measures off the masses to concentrate on those who are deemed to be higher risks. But until the program is expanded, he said, flying won’t be any safer.
“I don’t think it changes the probability of catching terrorists one way or another,” he said. “But it makes life easier.”