PreCheck program launches at Pittsburgh International Airport

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Making it through security at Pittsburgh International Airport might never be hassle free. But it will be a lot easier for some lucky travelers starting today.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will be launching PreCheck at the airport, a program that allows pre-approved travelers to use an express lane for screening -- and to keep their shoes, belts and coats on and their laptops in a bag.

Pittsburgh is the 28th airport in the country to offer the program, which started last October. Since then, about 3 million travelers have participated in it, said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman.

But don't count on saving some time if you fly about as often as the Steelers win an away game.

The program is open mainly to frequent fliers who have received an invitation to participate from one of four airlines in Pittsburgh. Travelers also must be U.S. citizens. The TSA will conduct background checks on those who accept the invitation and make sure they are not on no-fly or watch lists.

Airlines involved in PreCheck in Pittsburgh are American, Delta, United and US Airways.

If you're not a frequent flier, it's possible to become part of PreCheck if you enroll in Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry program, which allows international travelers to clear customs more quickly. To be eligible, travelers must undergo a rigorous background check and pay a $100 fee.

Once enrolled in PreCheck, a traveler who is flying will show his or her boarding pass to a TSA officer. Those eligible for expedited screening on the trip will be directed to the express lane. Travelers still must go through metal detectors or body scanners.

However, not every participating traveler will get expedited screening every time.

"We always will incorporate random and unpredictable measures into the security program to ensure that passengers can't game the system," Ms. Davis said.

Nonetheless, feedback from travelers regarding PreCheck has been "very positive," she added. "People who have used it are very pleased with it. They are pleased with its speed and efficiency."

At Pittsburgh International, the express lane will be located at the airport's main security checkpoint.

Ms. Davis said PreCheck is one of several risk-based security initiatives the TSA has launched in the last year to make it easier for some travelers to fly. Offering expedited screening to some segments of the population allows TSA "to focus more attention on the people we know less about," she said.

But PreCheck also has come under some scrutiny. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported Monday that the TSA's arrangement with the airlines has limited the number of people that can use the program. It reported that the 1 million PreCheck screenings a month the TSA is projecting for next year equals only about 2 percent of all U.S. passengers.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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