Dear Transportation Security Administration:
I am writing this letter to state my opposition to the fast-pass lanes you will be setting up at the security checkpoints in Palm Beach International Airport by the end of the year.
This service, which you call TSA PreCheck, allows passengers who pay $85 to pass through the checkpoint with more of their dignity intact.
No removal of shoes, belts or jackets. No unpacking of liquids or computers. Less groping. More speed to the gate.
“Volunteered participant information is used to make an intelligence-driven risk assessment that could allow some travelers to qualify for expedited screening,” your website says.
That one-time payment of $85 buys you this for five years. Passengers simply have to fill out an application form and provide their fingerprints, then wait for a few weeks before receiving their Known Traveler Number.
This is a lousy idea.
Everybody who flies these days is already a known traveler. They’ve already submitted their date of birth with the ticket purchase so that the TSA can run its Secure Flight program, which flags prospective passengers who’ve been put on government watch lists.
“The airline submits this information to Secure Flight, which uses it to perform watch list matching,” your website says. “This serves to prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft and to identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening.
“After matching passenger information against government watch lists, Secure Flight transmits the matching results back to airlines so they can issue passenger boarding passes.”
The way I see it, everybody who approaches the gate has already been sorted out by the TSA as either benign or as somebody who needs “enhanced screening.”
So all that this new TSA PreCheck program accomplishes is to create another class of flier based on his or her willingness to pay $85 in exchange for getting quicker passage through your little area of airport purgatory.
It’s like the SunPass on Florida’s Turnpike. Except that the people who zip through the SunPass lanes have no bearing on the safety of those who have to stop at the cash booth.
If safety’s paramount, we shouldn’t be relying on a 4-year-old assessment of someone’s mental health or radicalization.
On the other hand, it’s a good way for the TSA to raise money.
The goal is to register and add about 3 million new passengers by the end of the year to the already 12 million frequent-flier passengers who’ve been screened by their airlines.
We’re talking hundreds of millions of new dollars in revenue to a federal agency caught in the grips of mandated 8 percent budget cuts.
I’m afraid of what this might mean for those fliers who don’t join the program.
With all this money to be made, the effort to get people to sign up for PreCheck easily could be boosted by making things even more intrusive for the nonpaying line.
With a little extra groping, you could probably get a lot more passengers to sign up.
And then, as with SunPass, once the program gets popular, most lanes will be the expedited lanes, and the pressure on the no-frills travelers to join will be even more.
Next thing you know, we’ll all be paying that $85 five-year-fee to go through security, and not feeling any safer than we are now.
And you’ll have to come up with another way for impatient travelers to pay for faster passage.