The TSA‘s PreCheck program is the latest version of a panacea the agency has to solve the problems of their horrible inefficiency and misguided efforts at the screening checkpoint. And when it works the program actually is quite useful, saving a lot of time for passengers who are selected. But not enough customers are getting the necessary 3 beeps at the checkpoint, allowing them through the quicker screening method. One estimate has approximately 1 million passengers monthly using the new system by 2013, roughly 2% of the volume passing through checkpoints in the USA. The TSA wants the number to be between 50-75% and they’re blaming the airlines for not pushing more customers through.
The TSA might almost be turning a corner on policy. Administrator John Pistole acknowledges that most of the screening performed today is excessive:
The goal is to expand PreCheck as broadly as possible. The vast majority of travelers simply want to get from point A to point B safely. They’re not terrorists.
Of course, getting approved for PreCheck means telling the TSA a little about yourself. And it means flying through an airport where the service is available. The Agency is working to make it available at more locations – currently up to 27 airports today and should be in 35 by the end of the year – so that part is being handled somewhat. It seems the telling the TSA about yourself part is where things are breaking down. Currently the only way to get yourself checked is via a participating airline. The TSA actually isn’t doing the checking directly. From a Bloomberg article on the process:
TSA sets the classified criteria, and transmits them to participating airlines. Airlines match the qualifications, which include the number of miles flown, number of segments flown and number of destinations, against their frequent-flier lists. Airlines ask customers who qualify if they want to opt into PreCheck. Those who do are forwarded to TSA for final approval.
And the TSA is saying that airlines won’t share their data or include enough candidates to allow more to be expedited through the screening process. At the same time, the TSA acknowledges that they don’t have the systems in place, nor the ability to aggregate the information while maintaining appropriate levels of customer privacy vis a vis the different airlines involved. Douglas Hofsass, the TSA’s assistant administrator for the office of risk-based security, sums up the challenges:
Technically, we don’t have the ability right now, based on the way the eligibility requirements are transmitted to the individual carrier, the way those individuals opt in and the way those records come into us, to validate those individuals. We don’t have the ability to cascade that to other carriers when those individuals make reservations.
The TSA wants the information but doesn’t have the ability to appropriately handle or process it. And, according to Pistole, the TSA may also lack the authority to collect the information they need to analyze to make such systems work. It is a mess and it is almost as if the system was engineered to be such from the get-go.
At an IATA conference being held this week Tony Tyler, CEO of the group, notes that the current approach to security – building out more and more space to handle the ever increasing queues – is simply untenable. And that’s after millions upon millions of dollars have been spent just to get to this point.
Perhaps the most distressing part is that some big names in the industry are starting to praise the TSA’s recent changes. Air Canada‘s former CEO Montie Brewer, spoke highly of the organization while at the IATA conference .
I applaud the TSA. I never thought I would say it because they are the worst part of travel.
Apparently if you set the bar low enough then even tiny bits of progress can be incredible. A shame, really, but that’s the way things seem to work at the TSA.