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Getting through Orlando International Airport is about to get easier — if you’re willing to spend $85 and get fingerprinted.
By the end of next month, the Transportation Security Administration plans to double the number of “PreCheck” lanes at OIA from two to four, an expansion that will allow more passengers to zip through security without the hassle of removing their shoes and belts or taking their laptops out of their cases.
And the PreCheck program, previously limited to a small group of fliers, is going to be available to everyone starting this fall. What’s required is an online application, an $85 fee and then a visit to a TSA “enrollment site” to provide fingerprints and proof of identity. The PreCheck clearance is valid for five years.
But don’t get too excited. Right now, there are only two TSA enrollment sites — at Indianapolis International Airport and Dulles International Airport outside Washington — though the agency plans to set up more soon.
“This process will allow TSA to maintain its high security standards and create greater efficiency while offering more travelers the benefit of expedited screening through TSA PreCheck lanes,” said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman.
Not everyone is in favor of the OIA expansion, however.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, a longtime TSA critic, said doubling the number of PreCheck lanes at OIA may make security lines longer for passengers who don’t register for the program — as TSA is converting two “regular” lanes to PreCheck lanes rather than simply adding two more lanes.
Mica, himself a PreCheck member, said he regularly flies through OIA but has “never seen more than two people ahead” of him in the PreCheck lane. Meanwhile, the line for other passengers is “around the corner,” he said.
“They just can’t get it right,” said Mica, former chair of the House transportation committee. He suggested TSA scrap the PreCheck program and use similar, low-key security checks for most passengers — and focus on travelers whom investigators find suspicious.
“There are millions of people who fly who should not be harassed,” Mica said.
That sentiment was echoed by Kate Hanni, founder of the consumer group FlyersRights.org.
“I think it [PreCheck] should be free and to all American citizens who are willing to give up their personal information in exchange for a more pleasant TSA experience,” said Hanni, adding that TSA should focus on those “unwilling to provide their information and who actually present a risk.”
TSA officials counter that their ultimate goal is to do just that: use the PreCheck program to move along less-worrisome passengers so TSA agents can concentrate on suspicious ones.
“TSA PreCheck enables us to focus on the travelers we know the least about, adding efficiency and effectiveness to the screening process,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement.
The move is part of a broad TSA effort to grow the fledgling PreCheck program, which began in 2011 and since has been used by travelers about 15 million times.
Previously, it was open only to a select group of fliers, such as those who registered with other federal “trusted traveler” programs such as Global Entry, which is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and will continue even with TSA expanding PreCheck.
About 40 airports now participate, and TSA plans to add an additional 60 by January, including Palm Beach International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport.
The program likely will provide the most benefit to business travelers who fly frequently. But parents of young children get one bonus if they sign up. As long as their kids are 12 or younger, PreCheck parents can take their children with them through the lanes.
Still, registering for PreCheck doesn’t guarantee a hassle-free trip to the airport, as TSA reserves the right to conduct a more-thorough search.
“TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport. No individual will be guaranteed expedited screening,” Koshetz said.
On the flip side, passengers not willing to sign up for PreCheck still have a chance to use those lanes, as TSA sometimes will analyze data already submitted to the airlines — such as age and gender — and reroute less-threatening passengers to the PreCheck lanes when they get their boarding passes.
TSA officials did not disclose the cost of the expansion — or the PreCheck program as a whole — except to note that its cost is rolled into TSA’s overall annual budget of more than $7 billion.
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TSA PreCheck: How to register
Sometime this fall — though no exact dates have been given — the general public can register to join TSA’s PreCheck program, which allows members to use a special security line that doesn’t require them to remove their jacket or shoes. Membership is good for five years before it needs to be renewed.
Here’s how to sign up.
1. Go to the TSA website to fill out an online application.
2. Pay $85, either online or in person at an enrollment center.
3. Visit an enrollment center to provide fingerprints and confirm your identity. Only two enrollment centers are now open — at Indianapolis International Airport and Dulles International Airport — but TSA plans to open more soon. ___