BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — They hit at the peak of the spring travel season — long security screening lines at the nation’s busiest airports.
The problem grew as fewer Transportation Security Administration screeners were available to process a larger number of seasonal flyers.
So in March, TSA administrator Peter Neffenger came to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and promised that things will improve.
The TSA has assigned more canine units to airports around the country, additional overtime to staff and gave full-time status to part-time workers.
“I don’t like waiting in lines either, and I know you don’t,” Neffenger said then.
That’s why travelers like Tamsen Preston are taking the TSA’s advice and enrolling for PreCheck. It’s a trusted traveler program that puts flyers in shorter, low-risk lines at airport security checkpoints.
Because they are less risk, flyers in the program don’t have to remove laptops, shoes, jackets and belts – that alone leads to faster screening.
“I chose to make the appointment, it gives you locations and I chose the closest location to me and the time,” Preston said.
Preston is among 65,000 Minnesota travelers who’ve enrolled in PreCheck since the program began in late 2013.
For a fee of $85, a traveler’s identity and background is verified – they are then assigned a “known traveler number” that’s good for five years.
Each time they book an airline ticket, the KTN is printed on the boarding pass allowing them to into the PreCheck security line.
The TSA reduced screening staff in recent years, anticipating that more and more people would apply for the ease of PreCheck. However, when that didn’t materialize, the general security screening crowds continued to grow.
Another complication came from Congress, when lawmakers diverted $1.3 billion from the security tax passengers pay on their airline tickets to help with the nation’s debt reduction. That resulted in fewer dollars for the TSA to work with.
“There are more than 2.8 million people who have enrolled in TSA PreCheck,” said TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers.
To find out how passengers qualify for the program, we visited one of four Twin Cities application centers.
Although you are allowed to drop in to the center, making an appointment guarantees a faster application process. While availability for appointments can be tight, proceeding without a scheduled appointment is on a first come, first served basis.
“I always just tell people to allow maybe a half an hour or an hour out of your day where you’re willing to wait to be seen and then you’ll be able to go through the process,” Dankers said.
At the Bloomington application center, we were in and out in less than 10 minutes. That was after handing over a passport to establish citizenship, answering a few basic questions and submitting a full set of fingerprints.
For frequent flyers like Randy Schrader, the effort’s well worth it.
“For me, it saves me at least 30 minutes to an hour every time I go to the airport,” Schrader said.
Dankers says that the $85 cost likely keeps many from applying. Roughly one in every five travelers is receiving some kind of expedited screening. The TSA would like that number to increase in the months ahead.
But it’s up to travelers to decide the price of a faster, less stressful security screening process.
PreCheck is used at all of the nation’s airports. While most major airlines participate in the program, there are some carriers that do not.
Because the KTN is good for five years, the cost of PreCheck breaks down to less than $20 a year.
One final tip: The MSP PreCheck center takes applications only by appointment. All other sites in Bloomington, St. Louis Park and Brooklyn Center accept drop-in applications.
Travelers generally received their approval and known traveler numbers within four to five business days.
For more information on the program, click here.