TSA Eliminated Free PreCheck to Make Room For… Free PreCheck!

There have been a flurry of stories over the past couple of days about how TSA was no longer going to send random people into the PreCheck security lines.

In order to send a majority of passengers through PreCheck, the TSA was:

  • Letting folks who registered for the PreCheck program, or programs like Global Entry with reciprocal recognition, use the lines.

  • Picking people for the lines whose travel history indicates low risk. This included many elite frequent flyers but also other folks that don’t expect to be given PreCheck, but their boarding passes appear with a Golden Ticket. This last slows down the lanes, because PreCheck neophytes don’t know not to take off their shoes, take out their computer, and unpack their dangerous liquids.

  • Picking people out of line at random. Behavior Detection Officers watch people waiting in line, decide they’re low risk, and invite them to move to the PreCheck lane. “There is no pretense of any kind of background check in these cases—just the unscientific hunch of the BDOs that the person appears to be low-risk.”

Security Risk? Some believe the ‘Managed Inclusion’ program — especially Behavior Detection Officers picking people out of line — poses a security risk because the Behavior Detection program has been demonstrated to be so ineffective as to be completely useless. So it’s effectively random inclusion rather than risk-based screening. But since PreCheck is still screening, and taking off shoes didn’t materially contribute to security, little security is actually lost.

TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Toqueville)

The bane of frequent flyers’ existence. Screening half of all passengers through what’s far from half of all lanes presents a logistical challenge, and sending people through the lines who go through the motions of taking off shoes and taking out liquids slows things down for everyone. PreCheck has gotten too crowded because people are using it wrong.

So there were many cheers from folks who were still going to get PreCheck (as a result of the PreCheck program signup or Global Entry) that there would be fewer people going through the lanes, especially fewer people who didn’t expect it or know what to do. But that conflicts with agency goals of pushing more people through those lanes, and PreCheck signups alone don’t get them there.

So they can claim to be ending the ‘Managed Inclusion 2’ program. But that doesn’t actually mean managed inclusion is over. Instead, it’s just to make way for the ‘Managed Inclusion III’ program.

TSA will be rolling out Managed Inclusion III, a version of the program that will use canines to screen some travelers and allow them into the PreCheck lines.

Under the latest incarnation of the program, TSA agents will randomly choose from passengers who have made their reservations in advance, and whose names have been vetted through the TSA’s Secure Flight pre-screening process before they arrive at the airport.

In other words, they plan to replace Behavior Detection Officers with Behavior Detection Officers with Dogs. They’re going to use the dogs they’re currently sending around the screening lines, and use those to help decide who gets PreCheck. Of course the dogs don’t have a better track record than the Behavior Detection Officers themselves.

I seem to recall Condorcet’s law suggesting that the more people you have making a decision, when each person has a greater than 50% chance of making the right decision and each has an equal voice, the better chance you have that the decision will be correct. But the reverse is also true. When each has a less than 50% chance of being correct . . .

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I watched the entire congressional hearings on using dogs for this, and all of the science showed that it doesn’t work. So naturally the TSA will double down on it.

  2. Thank goodness we professionalized airport security by making all these people federal employees. Just imagine how horrible things would be if security were run for profit. They would be so busy trying to please customers that great innovations like these would never see the light of day.

  3. As somebody who has shelled out $100 for Global Entry, had an interview with a Border agent who checked me out, presented credentials to guarantee I am who I say I am, and been fingerprint checked, I have to say this news is disappointing.

    It’s sort of like the guy who checks his baggage, pays the fee, only to find that those passengers who lug everything but the kitchen sink on board the plane end up getting free check-in since all the overhead space is filled.

    Making the people who do the right thing feel like suckers is not a good policy, IMHO.

  4. In fairness to the decision makers, these dogs are smarter than the vast majority of TSA screeners, and far fewer of them are sex offenders…

  5. I’m ok with the idea of letting a small percentage of low risk infrequent travelers through the PreCheck line, if it would mean that PreCheck is open more consistently at many airports.

    For example, I soon have a 9pm flight out of LGA on American. PreCheck closes at 7pm at that security station. If they want to let some of the people on the flights from 7:30pm-9pm go through PreCheck to keep it open, I’m fine with that. But sending “freebies” through ORD T3 at 6:30am on a Monday or 6pm on a Thursday, that’s a horrible idea.

  6. But the reverse is also true. When each has a less than 50% chance of being correct . . . you still end up with a better decision! Without going into the math, each bumbling idiot provides additional information, so a decision based on a room full of bumbling idiots is more reliable than the decision of a single bumbling idiot.

  7. There’s a very simple solution that will make everybody happy. Eliminate “pre-check.” Instead, revert to a system where everyone gets the pre-check-style security. If there’s any reason to believe that a particular traveler is a risk, they can deal with it ahead of time. But assumption of guilt until you pay to prove yourself innocent clearly doesn’t work.

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