Usually when we write about gripes with the Transportation Security Administration, it’s that the TSA is being too nosy and touchy-feely at airport security checkpoints, but what about when it just decides that two entire lines of travelers don’t need the full screening and deserve the same expedited screening as the pre-vetted travelers in the TSA PreCheck program?
That’s exactly what happened to me and dozens of other early morning travelers last week at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. I’m not a member of PreCheck (which the TSA obnoxiously insists on writing as “Pre✓™”) and the line I’d been directed to after the initial, fleeting check of my boarding pass in no way indicated that this was a PreCheck line.
But as I approached the checkpoint to have my ID checked and my boarding pass scanned, a man who appeared to be a TSA supervisor stood and declared that my line and the one next to it are now PreCheck lanes.
The initial reaction from those around me was confusion — mutterings of “Why did they put me in the wrong line? What is PreCheck? Do I have to get in another line?” — but then the supervisor just continued telling us that we didn’t need to take off our shoes, remove laptops from their bags, and the other perks of being a PreCheck traveler.
And his promise held true, as I whizzed through security in a matter of seconds without the usual hassle of recombobulating afterward. But as grateful as I was to be done with the security checkpoint (especially after several days of being very ill while also trying to cover the Consumer Electronics Show), I was curious about whether what had just happened was within the TSA guidelines.
After all, what is the point of PreCheck if its benefits can just be bestowed upon random groups of unscreened travelers? Isn’t that really just an admission that the whole process is security theater?
I reached out to the TSA and described the situation, and received a semi-clarification.
“TSA also utilizes these lanes during certain times for other low-risk passengers who are identified through a real-time threat assessment process,” explained a TSA rep who then directed me to this TSA.gov page on what the agency calls “Managed Inclusion.”
Here it describes a way in which TSA can use other layers of security to include travelers in the PreCheck fun:
After the initial risk assessment by Passenger Screening Canines and Behavior Detection Officers as passengers move through the standard security checkpoint area, a TSA Officer will verify the traveler’s boarding pass and identification while the passenger steps onto an electronic mat with directional arrows. The mat randomly designates whether the passenger will experience standard or expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™.
Thing is, this doesn’t quite describe the scene I witnessed in Las Vegas. There were no canines sniffing around the lines in question, no electronic mat with directional arrows. What’s described in above and in the below video is a process wherein a decision is made at the checkpoint about each passenger, but the situation I was part of involved a supervisor simply declaring that two lines were now PreCheck.
In the short time during which I was waiting to be processed, I didn’t see anyone randomly assigned to go through the standard security check. Everyone I saw zipped through quickly with their shoes and belts on.
It is nice to know about Managed Inclusion, as it is a way to expedite one of the least-pleasant parts about air travel, but it would be even better if the TSA applied these rules consistently.