Frequent business traveler Amy Rodgers has a love-hate relationship with the TSA's pre-check screening program.
The program — in effect at 118 U.S. airports — aims for speedy processing of select passengers who have paid a fee, been fingerprinted and undergone a computer security check.
Such travelers go through designated lanes and — unlike other passengers —are allowed to leave on shoes,light jackets and belt. They can keep a laptop in its case and liquids and gels in a carry-on bag.
Rodgers, a consultant in New Berlin, Wis., says the program is "excellent" and once "saved" her from missing a flight when she arrived late.
She, however, detests when TSA personnel — in an attempt to fully use staff and speed up the standard security lines — direct non-approved travelers to use the pre-check lanes.
"I hate it," says Rodgers, a USA TODAY Road Warrior who volunteers travel information. "The people not approved for the program are confused about what to do. The TSA spends more time explaining, 'keep your shoes on,' etc., etc., and it holds up the rest of us who are ready to go."
The TSA has been actively promoting the pre-check program, agency spokesman Ross Feinstein says.
The TSA has enrolled 273,489 passengers, and millions of others enrolled in Global Entry or other entry programs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are automatically eligible for TSA's pre-check program.
The TSA wants the number to expand and has no limit on the number of passengers it will enroll, Feinstein says.
Passengers who want to enroll pay an $85 application fee. If they are approved, they are enrolled for five years.
The TSA tries to inform non-approved travelers — when they are chosen — about the pre-check lane procedures, Feinstein says.
Regardless of the number of non-approved passengers processed in pre-check lanes, passengers in the lanes "generally move quicker" than those in standard lanes, Feinstein says.
The TSA aims to process each passenger within five minutes in a pre-check lane — half the time of the goal in a standard lane.
Road Warrior Bob Burns of Orlando is enrolled in the pre-check program, though, and finds it "very frustrating."
Burns, a vice president in the power line inspection industry, says he paid to become pre-check program member, and other passengers are getting the expedited screening benefits without paying.
Elderly people, he says, "automatically" get shifted to pre-check lines — whether they are enrolled.
"They seldom travel, and, when they do, they are unaccustomed to the procedures and need to be educated while in these lines," Burns
TSA offers "some form of expedited screening to passengers over the age of 75," Feinstein says, but they are not guaranteed access to the pre-check lanes.
The TSA's website informs passengers 75 or older that they are less likely to pose a security risk and will be screened similarly to passengers younger than 13.
They may leave their shoes and a light jacket on when passing through security.
Burns says his home airport, Orlando, is "always" full of passengers, and TSA personnel "shuffle anybody" through the pre-check lines if they have few passengers.
Feinstein says TSA uses two methods to select which travelers not approved for the pre-check program are directed to pre-check lanes.
Some are chosen after a computer risk assessment and are told on their boarding passes to go to the pre-check lanes.
Others may be selected for the pre-check lanes while waiting on standard security lines. They are randomly chosen and may be perceived as lower risk by TSA personnel, including ones trained in behavior detection, Feinstein says.
Road Warrior John Hamilton of Dallas says the TSA's decision to allow non-approved fliers through the pre-check lanes is a "typical," bad government decision.
He says he flies more than 135,000 miles each year, and too much of his time is wasted by non-approved passengers slowing down the pre-check lanes.
Can't tell you how many times I am standing there, and the guy is taking off his belt, looking back at me and asking, 'Do I need to take my belt off?'" says Hamilton, a project manager in the health care industry.
Unlike many other Road Warriors enrolled in the pre-check program, Barry Maher, a motivational speaker from Corona, Calif., doesn't mind TSA screening non-approved passengers in the pre-check lanes.
"Letting passengers not enrolled in the program use it is fine," he says.
Maher says, though, that selecting non-approved passengers and not explaining pre-check program procedures "is ludicrous" and "can badly damage" the program's effectiveness.
"How much would it cost the TSA to post a few signs?" he asks.