Thursday, December 12, 2013
Starting in October, travelers who fly out of Portland International Jetport will be able to take an express lane through the U.S. Transportation Security Administration checkpoint by signing up for a new federal program.
The program, TSA Precheck, already is in use at 40 of the nation's largest airports. It will be expanded to 60 more airports by the end of this year, including the jetport this fall, the TSA said Thursday.
So far, the program is open only to certain members of frequent-flier programs and travelers in the federal government's "trusted traveler programs."
Trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry and NEXUS allow international travelers expedited passage through U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoints.
Active-duty military personnel in good standing also can use the Precheck program, the TSA said.
By the end of this year, the administration will launch a direct enrollment program that will let previously ineligible travelers apply for Precheck.
Direct enrollment will cost $85 for a five-year membership. After five years, members will have to reapply.
That's slightly less than the $100 fee for a five-year Global Entry membership, but it doesn't allow faster passage through customs.
An applicant will have to submit fingerprints and proof of identification for a background check at one of several designated enrollment centers inside airports.
Those approved for the Precheck program will have access to special lines at participating TSA checkpoints, where they won't have to remove their shoes, belts or jackets.
They also won't have to remove one-quart bags containing liquids from carry-on luggage, or laptops from their carrying cases, the TSA said.
"It's just amazing how quickly it goes," said Ross Feinstein, press secretary for the TSA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Travelers in the Precheck program still are subject to "random exclusion" screenings, Feinstein said.
Nathan and Marilyn Hayward, of Montchanin, Del., who waited Thursday at the Portland airport's baggage claim area, said they are Global Entry members so they have used the Precheck lines at airports that already have them.
They said they are pleased that Portland will be added to the program.
Nathan Hayward said he used Precheck recently at Philadelphia International Airport, and getting through the line at security was much faster than usual. "It was, as they say, a piece of cake," he said.
He noted that the enrollment process involves filling out many forms and inconvenient scheduling of an in-person interview. "It's not for the faint of heart," he said.
Cheyenne Boyce, who visited Portland on Thursday from Bald Knob, Ark., said it probably wouldn't be worth her while to enroll in the Precheck program.
"I really don't fly a lot," she said. "This is only our third time flying."
Paul Bradbury, the director of Portland's airport, said the TSA isn't offering the program to make money; it will merely break even on the $85 membership fees.
He said the Precheck program probably will make getting through TSA checkpoints faster even for those who aren't enrolled, because it will divert a certain percentage of travelers out of the regular lines.
"From the airport's perspective, we obviously like this," he said. "Doesn't it just make sense to have a little bit of pre-vetting?"
Portland's airport is the only one in Maine that is scheduled to get Precheck in the nationwide expansion. Bradbury said the new line is expected to open at the jetport in October.
Feinstein said the TSA should have an enrollment center at the jetport by the time it gets a Precheck line.
For more information about the program, go to tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.