Monday, April 23rd, 2012

How to Blow Through Airport Security for Only $100

This weekend the Times travel section wrote about frequent flier security programs, including TSA PreCheck—or, as the government likes to call it, TSA Pre✓™. Mostly it was just speculation from the writer: "I’m anticipating an expedited stroll through a special security checkpoint." Oh honey! Well, let me tell you about that expedited stroll, as a bona fide government-approved flying person who has now strolled security more expeditiously than can be believed.

As discussed, I got on the good list a while back by having an American Airlines frequent flier number and by getting approved by Global Entry. This was really easy, although ponying up the $100 seemed like throwing five twenties in the trash. Except with like all spending, once it was gone, it was forgotten.

And here's how it went down.

The Approach

So you know how there's those people who sort you into security lines? But mostly their job is to make sure you're not being a carry-on pig? (That is a rough job, I feel for them… mostly.) They probably got like one training blast about how to identify people for the PreCheck lane, and they're not… all there. So once you're Government-Approved, you have to stroll up, show them your boarding pass, show them the sticker on the back of your passport and say "I'm here for the PreCheck line." Even then, sometimes that won't totally work. (Recently they just sent me to the First Class (gross, but awesome) line, which, okay fine, I'll take it, but.)

The Entry

So then, whichever line you get shunted into, which might be the dedicated PreCheck line or might be some other line, after of course cramming your secret second carry-on into your real carry-on, the real ID screener-type person will likely identify you and shunt you into the PreCheck line if you're not already. (If, like, it's actually open, and if you're really barcoded onto the list, and if it isn't TSA lunch break time, or a number of other random factors.)

So they'll shove you past all the other annoyed people (THAT PART IS REALLY GREAT–sorry, it's just sick but innate human and/or animal nature to want to be ushered past the velvet rope) and some very lonely TSA people assigned to the PreCheck line will be overly happy to see you, because they have pretty much nothing to do.

This is how it went down at JFK the other week:

TSA: "Have you ever done this before?"

Me: "Oh my God no but I'm so stoked!"

TSA: "Ohhhhkay, so, you can leave all liquids and laptops in your luggage, just place your bags on the belt. Leave your shoes on, take your wallet and stuff out of your pockets and also run them through the machine."

Me: "Oh my God, oh my God." (I'm even more inane than usual in stressful situations.)

Then they wave you through the metal detector, which you will then set off, because you have like a janitor's worth of keys on your belt and a lighter in your pocket, and everyone will look at you like you're stupid. Then you dump those to go through the machine, and you go back through the metal detector and then they're like "Great, peace out." Literally: this takes 10 seconds now. And you're not holding up your baggy beltless pants.

But then you realize it's like an hour until boarding time and you could have been using all this time to smoke.

When this system works, it's incredible. It's like riding the Matterhorn: I can't wait to go again next week. It also introduces a fresh element of gamification (LOL/UGH) to getting to your plane, in addition to all the other airplane games like "Will I get upgraded" and "Will I manage to switch seats away from someone loud and awful?" such as: will the line even be running? Can I navigate the gauntlet of functionaries to get to the right line? And then: can I successfully get through the PreCheck line without looking back at the faces of all the disgruntled people taking off their shoes?

So. All told? I GIVE TSA PRECHECK AN A+++ IN AWESOMENESS. Though I also give it a D- in "Constitutional and Human Fairness Issues."

40 Comments / Post A Comment

A+++ IN AWESOMENESS. Though I also give it a D- in "Constitutional and Human Fairness Issues."

Weirdly enough those are EXACTLY the marks I got in Catholic Cathecism class, circa 1990.

Matt (#26)

Well, you can go and have a drink with all that extra time, at least.

Pop Socket (#187)

I haven't taken the liquids out of my bags in at least a year. Nobody has ever called me on it. However the new backscatter x-rays force you to take off your belt and everything out of your pocket. They found two dimes on me one time.

MParcells (#375)

@Pop Socket I've been doing this for awhile, too. No taking them out, no baggy, nobody seems to care. I feel like once I've gone through the trouble of bringing smaller containers, they can deal with the rest if they want the hassle.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@Pop Socket: Two dimes? Jesus, I'd be too scared to bring even that small amount of pot through the airport…

@Pop Socket Enough with the bragging, Mitt.

@Pop Socket I had to get a pat down because I had a ponytail holder in my pocket that showed up on the xray thing. And it was all elastic, didn't even have any metal on it!

@Tricia Cannon@facebook I recently had a pair of Levis on that had some little studs on the back pockets? And they swabbed my hands for explosives. That happened. It was fun.

collier (#13,548)

"But then you realize it's like an hour until boarding time and you could have been using all this time to smoke."

Oh my frakking GOD, I KNOW. And the shorter your layover, the more likely that your gate is allllllllllllllll the way at the end of the terminal and sixteen thousand yards from an exit to an actual Designated Smoking Area (and not just a random outdoor space where lighting up results in your next words being "quit hasslin' me, cop" okay not /really/ but you're definitely thinking it).

Also? That yardage will double if your previous flight was more than four hours and you'd kill for a cigarette AND you're also hauling around a small dog in a wheely carrier that likes to tump over frequently for no discernible reason.

Dude, if it gets me out of almost missing my flight waiting to get felt up by TSA for opting out of the Body Scanner of Death, sign me up.

"Though I also give it a D- in 'Constitutional and Human Fairness Issues.'"

Not to be shitty here, but if you think it is awful that things are this way (as I do), why do you perpetuate the segregation by actively participating in it?

freetzy (#7,018)

@ReginalTSquirge This is not Selma we're talking about.

MParcells (#375)

@freetzy I think the reply you wanted was, "This is not Nazi Germany we're talking about."

melis (#1,854)

@MParcells "These aren't the metaphors you're looking for."

freetzy (#7,018)

@melis I stood in line behind a Wookie in a TSA line once. I left for the airport in plenty of time, so I made my flight without incident.

@freetzy I didn't say it was Selma/Nazi Germany/anything it's not. I just find it strange that people are so often like, "I disagree with this thing so I'm going to go right along with it!"

the teeth (#380)

@ReginalTSquirge You're (arguably) participating (nearly) as much when you choose to go through the normal screening process.

TheRtHonPM (#10,481)

The worst, worst part about being in the peon line is when your gate is JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE of security (like, you can see it) but the whole security line is moving like molasses. This happened one time at ORD when I was already late — like 10 minutes from departure, I even told the line lady I was late (got a blank stare for my trouble) — and I was sure I was about to watch them close the door and let the plane go, so close yet so far away. (Just made it though).

So, intangible ideals of constitutional rights vs. the real benefit of breezing through security. Hmm.

falseberry (#11,323)

"Can I navigate the gauntlet of functionaries to get to the right line?"

Gantlet. Gauntlet is the arcade game you might play if stuck in a terminal for an extra hour. Assuming you’ve flown back in time to 1987 or so.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@falseberry Joe Clark?

Conal Darcy@twitter (#197,399)


The Google, she is your friend.
Word History: The spelling gauntlet is acceptable for both gauntlet meaning "glove" or "challenge" and gauntlet meaning "a form of punishment in which lines of men beat a person forced to run between them"; but this has not always been the case. The story of the gauntlet used in to throw down the gauntlet is linguistically unexciting: it comes from the Old French word gantelet, a diminutive of gant, "glove." From the time of its appearance in Middle English (in a work composed in 1449), the word has been spelled with an au as well as an a, still a possible spelling. But the gauntlet used in to run the gauntlet is an alteration of the earlier English form gantlope, which came from the Swedish word gatlopp, a compound of gata, "lane," and lopp, "course." The earliest recorded form of the English word, found in 1646, is gantelope, showing that alteration of the Swedish word had already occurred. The English word was then influenced by the spelling of the word gauntlet, "glove," and in 1676 we find the first recorded instance of the spelling gauntlet for this word, although gantelope is found as late as 1836. From then on spellings with au and a are both found, but the au seems to have won out.

joeclark (#651)

@boyofdestiny Do you think I play arcade games?

SurgingSantorum (#214,904)

Truly enjoyed your story about how your state-approved bribe is helping you in life. When can we expect to hear more?

Nope. I once had a line of mooks heckle me at passport control because they didn't realize I qualified for a different line (foreigners). They thought I was just being a dick. It was ugly. Especially when I had to walk back because I hadn't filled in my landing card. Real ugly. I don't like seeing people get that ugly. It was seriously bad news. No way. This very bad program.

Nahnsense (#7,172)

Two things:
1)They have the same system for getting through customs and if you've ever bypasses a two-hour customs line you know X 10 what a joy this is.

2)This reminds me of another one of my favorite things: the "Flash Pass" at the amusement park. For some amount of extra $, you get to schedule what rides you want to go onto and skip ahead of all the other plebes. They even have a "platinum" level where you get to ride the roller coaster twice in a row WITHOUT GETTING OUT OF YOUR SEAT. Again a complete failure of social justice, but a free-market dream come true.

katiebakes (#32)

@Nahnsense YES and the Flash Pass things let you pick where on the roller coaster you want to sit! Vital.

mishaps (#5,779)

I sort of feel like this is the government's way of admitting the entire TSA system is a total failure, and if we each pay them $100, it will go away.

collier (#13,548)

@mishaps : It's the same way Microsoft OS upgrades work.

BadUncle (#153)

Two observations:

1) a lighter? they still let you carry those into airports?
2) what if you qualifty, but you want extra attention with the wand because this is the closest you can ever get to another person and you like it?

evilfred (#2,351)

Servicey! I fly all the time from Vancouver to the US and find that our US/Canada Nexus Pass (which is compatible with Global Entry) works great in Canadian airports but in most American airports there is no obvious provision so I stand in the regular lines like a fool. I'll make an effort now to try and get more caviar treatment!

cory dodt@twitter (#12,071)

That sounds awesome! Hey, what's your phone number? My terrorist organization will be contacting you soon with a job offer. We are also big fans of the policy.

ep (#8,509)

The entire post-9/11 security apparatus needs to be completely dismantled. No TSA, no Department of Homeland Security, no metal detectors, no domestic surveillance, no dingbat sting operations, no more multi-agency meetings on PreCheck system design. I'm not scared of shit. Tear it all down.

scrooge (#2,697)

I'm waiting for some smart operator to get the Smoking Room concession. Then I can get there without getting ulcers, and then not get ulcers by smoking in/near the departure lounge.

lawyergay (#220)

Poor people are terrorists.

UncleStu (#232,509)

The Department of Homeland Security.

It sounds so much better in the original German.

El Matardillo (#586)

@UncleStu Die Abteilung der Staatssicherheit

clifordevans (#232,528)

haha yes sounds better in german

In Charlotte the other day, they had one security line for the fancy people and one for the regular people but they only had ONE security lady and she alternated us. Things got even slower as she had each of us "State your name." Is this a new TSA thing?

I need someone to explain the difference between PreCheck and Extortion, because I don't see it. "See those guys over there– they want to grope you and generally make your life miserable. But for $100, we'll show you the secret shortcut."

Handily no terrorist could ever afford the $100 for looser checks and a way to verify the ID being used isn't on the no-fly list.

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