A Proposal Regarding TSA Pre✓: Should There Be Four Types of Lanes?

have been reading all of the hoopla regarding the latest news pertaining to the supposed elimination of “managed inclusion” of the Pre✓ program operated by the Transportation Security Administration; and it occurred to me that there should perhaps be four types of lanes at security checkpoints at airports in the United States.

In this article, I asked if the Pre✓ program was simply a brilliant marketing campaign where a branch of the federal government of the United States seems to have figured out a way to capitalize on the terror attacks which occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 — but then it occurred to me that perhaps two mutually exclusive issues were being mixed up: the desire for passengers to pass through security checkpoints at airports with as little hassle as possible; and the desire for passengers to bypass the lines altogether…

…so I was thinking of this proposal:

  1. A lane or two dedicated to those who already paid in advance for the privilege to pass through security checkpoints at airports as quickly as possible
  2. A lane or two dedicated to those who did not pay in advance but want to bypass long lines who would be willing to pay a one-time fee on the spot for the privilege — similar to the advent of variable toll lanes on highways — and the cost of the fee would depend on the waiting time of the line: a longer waiting time means a higher fee, for example
  3. The majority of lanes which operate similarly to security procedures prior to September 11, 2001 where no one has to remove their shoes or whip out their “one-quart baggies of liquids” — and there would be no charge to use these lanes
  4. A lane or two for those who need special assistance; are unfamiliar with passing through security checkpoints at airports; or may require a secondary screening of some sort


Initially, I thought that the Pre✓ program is actually currently being done in reverse, where only numbers 3 and 4 from the list shown above should actually be the normal procedure — but then, why deny those people who believe that bypassing long lines at security checkpoints at airports is well worth the cost; and why not offer everyone a choice?

While the policies and procedures of security checkpoints at airports prior to September 11, 2001 arguably could have been improved and strengthened at no detriment to passengers, the terror attacks which occurred on that day were the result of using box cutters, which were permitted to bring along aboard an airplane at that time. What should have been done was tighten the restriction on implements and devices which could be carried aboard an airplane; but it appeared that everything was overdone “in the name of security.” Remember the armed military personnel stationed at airports once commercial aviation was once again in operation after September 11, 2001?

There are those people who believe that anything and everything should be done in the name of safety, no matter what. I am not one of those people; and I believe that the above proposal — while admittedly not perfect — offers what I believe is a good compromise to all:

  • People who want to pay to use exclusive lanes will still have them; and the federal government of the United States will still have a revenue stream
  • People who do not want to pay for the privilege of what used to be standard policy and procedure at security checkpoints at airports will not have to do so; and
  • Slower lines will be available for those who may be intimidated or unfamiliar with the process or who may potentially need additional screening so as not to delay other passengers and cause long lines


What are your thoughts?

  1. I love Precheck, and I am all for variable / congestion pricing on our roads. In general, I feel it works for roads since they have a fixed capacity which cannot really change. The market pricing brings in money and keeps a balance that reflects value to the user. I also agree that security theater costs us far more in lost time and pushing people to less safe travel means (driving) than actually benefiting us. As an elite with precheck, I agree that the current line systems routinely dont make sense and lead to overall frustration higher than more lines with better differentiation between them.

    Where I get nervous with your proposal for TSA lines, is that stations will invariably be managed by how much revenue they bring in, which means the people who do not want to pay may face extraordinary waits. I can see the incompetent TSA folks at many airports letting lines go 30 minutes or more. I am also concerned about too many government services where upcharges are acceptable – outside of passport expediting and perhaps toll lanes, I can’t think of any. PreCheck is slightly different in that you are paying in advance for a background check and known traveller status, not necessarily faster screening.

    What would the effects be on the airlines who sell the priority line a la JetBlue Even More Speed?

    1. I would agree with you, Noah — but had those concerns of yours not already started with programs such as Global Entry, where people currently have to pay in order to use a special lane?

  2. I would like to see children under the age of 15 BANNED for any fast lanes. I checked out the Clear program and was dumped in the normal line, coat off, shoes off, the whole magical. Worse, I was dumped into the main line where children were in front of me. That means that parents who would like to “buy up” for the entire family can’t. Tough, cost of having children. Parents natch put their children ahead of them but then don’t monitor their progress so they just stand there waiting for their parents to tell them what to do. Heaven forbid anyone else try to help them or they are glared at for being a potential perv. Just my two cents. I am sympathetic to parents but not when it comes to going through security.

    1. I am not sure I agree or disagree with what you posted, Kathryn Creedy, which I find interesting; but I admittedly have not thought about children at security checkpoints at airports.

      I would be curious to read what other readers of The Gate think about what you posted…

  3. The system is fine the way it is. There don’t need to be any changes, especially where more divisions or “lines” are needed. A good percentage of the flying public can’t or choose not to read the signage or website info, listen to TSA instructions, or have any clue what they are doing when they enter a checkpoint. It is truly amazing to see people holding up the line because they don’t know what to do. If anything there should be an “I’m too dumb to listen or read” line in which those folks can go and the TSA personnel can individually help them go through screening.

    Compounding the problem is the layout of the security checkpoints because of the design of the airport itself. Ever been to Terminal C at EWR? It’s fine for the most part, but go over to Terminal A and wow its a cramped tiny hallway with dividers and walls all over the place. It lends itself to long lines and slow processing.

    The majority of customer facing TSA agents couldn’t find their @$$ with both hands. Until Americans decide we want real security and are willing to pay for well trained and competent agents we will forever have a broken system that allows 95% of banned items though.

    1. In a way, the “I’m too dumb to listen or read” lane was what was in the back of my mind pertaining to the fourth lane which I listed, Captain Kirk; but of course, that lane would have to be worded in such a way that a person does not read it and says “That ain’t me.”

      More realistically, it would be a lane where the pressure would be taken off of those who need to take their time being processed and not be hurried by someone who might be impatient. I guess it is like being a deer in headlights: when the moment comes where the person is finally at the head of the line, he or she suddenly does not seem to know what to do.

      Yes, I have been to Terminal C at Newark Airport literally hundreds of times; as well as through its security checkpoint. I agree that Terminal A is horrid and can be a place where the idea of four different lanes might not work.

  4. Your idea of four lanes is interesting and thoughtful. I often wonder how much quicker security would go for everyone though if there was simply more staffing. There are often several lanes closed (TSA Pre too!) at many airports for no apparent reason other than not enough agents (even though there are usually several seen milling about, but that’s another issue entirely). That’s why I loved TSA Pre before they started pulling people out of the “regular” lines and letting them use the Pre lines – speed. I want to get through quickly as do all travelers. If it takes them 10 lanes and 50 agents, so be it. Perhaps the extra revenue from those “one time fees” would help.

  5. First, I would abolish TSA and hire a security force consisting of former veterans with experience in terrorism to guard our airports. These folks have seen terror and know how these people think. They also know how to treat American citizens with dignity and respect. I’m sure Congress could appropriate the funds from the same source that they use to pay their retirement pay upon discharge.

    Since “regulating air travel” is not a power enumerated to Congress, I would remove all airports from FAA jurisdiction and have each state establish their management system for airports. If there should be an issue in-flight, then get the FBI involved. If there’s an issue at the airport, contact the state’s investigative bureau.

    I would also abolish all restrictions on what can be brought on airplanes, eliminate pre-check and allow people to travel as they were as if it were pre-9/11. There’s no reason that air travel has to be complicated or bureaucratic.

    1. I would consider abolishing the Transportation Security Administration as well for the reasons you mention, Mike — but I absolutely agree that there is no reason why commercial air travel has to be so complicated or bureaucratic…

      …except, of course, to line the pockets of those who benefit from such policies — as well as to deflect any blame if there is a breach in security procedures.

      Imagine the lawmaker who proposes to do away with the restrictions and then something significant happens. Not that I agree with it; but that person will never hear the end of the firestorm of vilification and criticism he or she would ultimately face…

  6. Been through DCA? In the DL/UA security line they dump “Expedited” into precheck just after the ID check. Result is a random pile of people (kids, elderly, first time travelers, etc) slowing precheck to a crawl. They use the magic iPad which has an arrow to determine if you get expedited. On day I watched an 90% made expedited backing up precheck and the regular line was empty. Four lines would be a disaster there.

    1. I have been thorough there many times, PCB; and it is almost always a mess.

      I probably would add this airport to the exception list; along with the aforementioned Terminal A in Newark Airport.

      I may as well consider adding Kansas City to that exception list as well; although I understand things are improving there in terms of the security checkpoints…

  7. I’m leery of monetizing any of this; security should not equal wealth. Kind of like the rich being able to pay for fast lanes on the highway, while I’m trying to get to work in the regular lanes – just saying.

    Having been in the military, I don’t think you’ll find enough “terrorism experts” to do the security, either.

    1. I am against it as well, JRG; but as I mentioned earlier in this Comments section, hasn’t the monetization already started with the Trusted Travelers programs where people are required to pay to use the special expedited lanes?

      I am simply attempting to reach a more equitable solution to have as many people processed as expeditiously as possible at no extra cost; but I absolutely do not pretend to have all of the answers…

  8. Rather than looking at the relative inconvenience and wasted time involved with current procedures, you may want to be thankful that the current procedures (while admittedly not foolproof) provide you at least some protection against a radical jihadi mixing liquid ingredients into a bomb powerful enough to blow your airplane out of the sky. That would be a true “inconvenience”. I for one have had enough complaining about the TSA. Any reforms should focus on increasing safety rather than just convenience.

      1. No, that’s not what I said. As an economist, I prefer the minimum cost (wasted time and money) necessary to provide a reasonable standard of safety. Please don’t diminish my safety nor that of my family. That standard is not easily evaluated without a detailed knowledge of the threat, which involves intelligence not available to the public. Many of the whiners on Boardingarea would prefer less “cost” at the price of not only their own safety, but everyone else on the plane. Let’s remember there is an alternative for those who don’t like TSA screening, either drive or take a cruise. TSA Pre seems like a very reasonable compromise, you provide more info in advance in return for shorter security screening. Your four lines proposal is begging for a terrorist to exploit it.

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