You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

PreCheck still a tough call for many fliers


A key element in the government’s strategy to shorten airport security lines is to get millions more people to sign up for the PreCheck expedited screening program.

This spring’s rash of security line logjams at big U.S. airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson International, might have been the best marketing push the program could get.

But a number of factors — cost, application hassles and the chance that you’ll get PreCheck access even if you’re not in the program, or won’t get it even if you are — make signing up a complicated decision for many travelers.

So far, about 10 million people are enrolled in PreCheck and other government “trusted traveler” programs. The Transportation Security Administration launched PreCheck in 2011 and has had enrollment centers since late 2013.

The goal is 25 million people enrolled, so there’s still a long way to go.

PreCheck allows travelers to use a separate line and keep their shoes, jackets and belts on. They also can keep their laptops and permitted liquids in their bags. At Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal, there are PreCheck lanes at the main security checkpoint.

It costs $85 to apply. A PreCheck membership lasts five years, making it $17 per year.

Getting an appointment to apply can require a weeks-long wait, with an average of 16,000 applications streaming in each day nationally. TSA currently uses contractor MorphoTrust to operate its enrollment centers, and said it is working to expand the number of centers.

An average of about 200 people apply per day at the two enrollment centers at Hartsfield-Jackson, in the domestic terminal and on Concourse A. There are also enrollment centers on Clark Howell Highway and on Century Boulevard NE in Atlanta, as well as one in Cartersville.

Another option is to sign up for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler program called Global Entry, which costs $100 to apply for a five-year membership and includes both expedited screening at Customs and PreCheck access.

The programs are perceived as being of most use to business fliers who travel a lot and may be able to get their employer to pay for the membership. It’s a tougher sales job with the bulk of Americans who fly infrequently.

According to one survey — a Washington Post-ABC News poll in 2010 — 16 percent of respondents in a random national sample said they never fly on commercial airlines. About 32 percent said they travel once or twice a year, while 37 percent said they travel less frequently. That means 85 percent of respondents to the survey said they travel once or twice a year or less. Only 15 percent said they travel at least every few months.

“If you travel two, three times a year, I think you’re going to get the value out of it,” TSA spokesman Mark Howell said. “It’s kind of up to everybody if it makes sense to them for the amount they travel.”

But paying for PreCheck does not guarantee expedited screening.

For one thing, not all airlines participate. If you fly Frontier or Spirit, for example, you may not qualify to go in a PreCheck line even if you’re a member, because those carriers don’t participate.

And not all airports participate. While Hartsfield-Jackson has had PreCheck lines for years, some small airports that travelers may fly to still do not.

In Georgia, for example, only three airports have PreCheck: Atlanta, Savannah and Albany. Other commercial airports in the state including those in Augusta, Brunswick, Valdosta and Columbus, do not. Even at airports with PreCheck, sometimes the PreCheck line is closed.

“I signed up for PreCheck early on and have been pretty disappointed with it,” said traveler Keven DeFoer, who lives in Newnan. “I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to pay for PreCheck, have it printed on your boarding pass and then not be offered the expedited service.”

The benefits of PreCheck are unpredictable, too. When security lines are short during slower travel periods, there is less benefit.

And many travelers get PreCheck even without formally applying for it and paying the $85 fee. Delta Air Lines, for instance, initially offered it as a perk for elite-level SkyMiles members, while other travelers may be assigned PreCheck status at the time they check-in online and get a boarding pass. Still others may be sent to PreCheck after being pre-screened in the regular line by TSA canine units.

To be sure, frequent travelers and those who want an option to avoid long security lines often sing the praises of PreCheck. Howell said signing up is the best way to consistently get PreCheck access.

He said “it’s a win-win for everybody when the population of PreCheck grows … because we’re moving them into a quicker process, so both lines go faster.” He said at airports like Hartsfield-Jackson, TSA can easily re-configure a regular lane into a PreCheck lane to add capacity.

But it’s also worth noting that even if you have paid for PreCheck and are flying a participating airline at a participating airport, “no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening,” TSA notes. That’s because the agency “continues to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures” at the airport.

PreCheck members find out if they qualify for each flight by checking for the TSA PreCheck logo on their boarding pass.

“Even if you’ve done the enrollment, there’s a chance you won’t get it,” Howell noted.

And some PreCheck members say the PreCheck lines are sometimes longer than regular lines. TSA says even when the PreCheck line appears longer, it moves more quickly because of the expedited screening.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Business

Record number of travelers expected over July 4th weekend
Record number of travelers expected over July 4th weekend

A record number of people are expected to travel over the 4th of July holiday weekend, according to AAA. A total of 44.2 million Americans are forecast to take trips over the period running from June 30 to July 4. In Georgia, 1.3 million people will travel for the holiday, AAA says. Most of them will be driving. But 3.4 million across the country are...
Consumer ‘disconnect’ puzzling, new Atlanta Fed chief says
Consumer ‘disconnect’ puzzling, new Atlanta Fed chief says

What people say and what people do are often different, but the contrast is especially evident in the economy right now, according to the new president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. Raphael Bostic, 51, took the post June 5 following Dennis Lockhart’s retirement. He said in an interview Thursday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that...
Southern’s ‘clean coal’ headache worsens
Southern’s ‘clean coal’ headache worsens

As if Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle problems weren’t enough, utility regulators are telling the Atlanta company’s Mississippi unit to pull the plug on its troubled “clean coal” plant and absorb billions in costs. Mississippi Power’s Kemper plant was designed as a first-of-its-kind power plant that would burn coal more...
Southern Company’s “clean coal” headache worsens
Southern Company’s “clean coal” headache worsens

As if Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle problems weren’t enough, utility regulators are telling the Atlanta company’s Mississippi unit to pull the plug on its troubled “clean coal” plant and absorb billions in costs. Mississippi Power’s Kemper plant is a first-of-its-kind power plant that was supposed to burn coal more...
Metro Atlanta jobless rate flat as hiring weakens
Metro Atlanta jobless rate flat as hiring weakens

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate held steady in May at 4.5 percent, the same level as in April, the state Labor Department reported Thursday. However, hiring was weaker than usual for the month, with 4,600 new positions added compared to an average of 15,000 during May over the previous five years. The economy is not threatening recession,...
More Stories