Susan Rudisill was approaching the west-side checkpoint at Washington Dulles when an airport official stopped her and directed her to a different security area, where she would receive new instructions. Among them: Do not remove your shoes, light jacket or belt.
"I planned my whole wardrobe around having to take off my shoes!" exclaimed Ms. Rudisill, an Oregon traveler who had been randomly selected for PreCheck.
The Transportation Security Administration program, which launched in October 2011, rewards so-called trusted travelers with relaxed procedures reminiscent of the pre-9/11 days. The agents flip the usual script: They remind passengers to keep on clothing items that they would shed at traditional security outposts and instruct them to leave laptops and compliant liquids in their carry-on bags. Travelers also walk through old-fashioned metal detectors, not the newfangled body-image scanners.
Dust off the disco ball, because airport security is going retro.
"I was pleasantly surprised at how fast it was, and that I didn't have to dig through my bag for my 3-1-1 liquids," said Nancy Strahl, an Oregon-bound traveler and first-timer in the special lane. "I have to recommend it to everyone."
The TSA hopes that you will. Since its introduction, more than 20 million passengers have used PreCheck nationwide, according to the TSA.
The program is rapidly expanding, with more than 100 airports participating, including Pittsburgh International, up from 40 earlier this year, in 42 states and two territories (Puerto Rico and Guam). Nine U.S. airlines -- including Southwest and JetBlue, two recent additions -- are involved. (Currently, only JetBlue passengers with mobile app boarding passes are eligible; the airline plans to expand to include paper boarding passes by the start of next year.)
Earlier this year, TSA administrator John Pistole set an end-of-2013 goal to funnel 25 percent of all travelers through speedier security arrangements, which includes PreCheck and gentler processing for those 75 and older and children 12 and younger (both populations can leave their shoes and light coats on). He hopes to goose the number to 50 percent by the close of 2014.
The program benefits both civilians and government officials. Streamlined measures can help alleviate the stress on normal lanes, unclogging bottlenecks and brightening passengers' moods. For security purposes, preapproving travelers will hopefully help officials weed out non-threatening fliers and heap greater attention on riskier individuals.
To achieve Mr. Pistole's goal, the agency recently announced a more direct route to PreCheckdom. Previously, passengers have qualified for the service if they've already enrolled in a trusted-traveler program, such as Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry, or are active members of the military. (Men and women in the U.S. armed forces can now take advantage of the PreCheck program at 10 airports; it will be available to them at all participating facilities starting Dec. 20.) Airlines can also opt-in their frequent fliers.