TSA security lines

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

There are three columns today. I talked with Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole about how the TSA is working to expedite passengers through airport security with its evolving PreCheck program. Delta Air Lines also writes about the program, and MARTA addresses its renewed security focus. If you’ve had an experience, good or bad, with PreCheck, please  tell us about it.

Commenting is open.

TSA looks to speed up airport screening

By Tom Sabulis

Listen to TSA chief John S. Pistole for a few minutes, and you might feel guilty for ever grousing about a serpentine security line at the airport. The 26-year FBI man can widen your eyes talking about the latest destructive measures being invented by terrorists such as Ibrahim al-Asiri, the al-Qaida bombmaker accused of constructing the underwear explosives used in the botched suicide bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit at Christmas 2009.

Yet Pistole, 57, is also sensitive to the many complaints about TSA tactics. You know, the police-state charade that repeatedly puts law-abiding Americans through a “Simon Says” security wringer before they can catch a flight to grandma’s house. He’s trying to change negative impressions of the agency by changing the agency itself. “We have undertaken some fairly significant changes both in policy and in procedures,” he says, “so more and more people are experiencing a different TSA at the airport.”

The agency is moving from what Pistole calls “a one-size-fits all approach” — where everyone is a potential terrorist — to “a risk-based intelligence-driven” system, where people with passive travel histories are expedited through security. This is being done through TSA PreCheck. The program began in October 2011 with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as one of the first four eligible gateways. PreCheck is in 40 airports now, a number expected to double by the end of year.

Basically, travelers can get security pre-clearance by enrolling through participating airlines — including Atlanta-based Delta — or in U.S. Customs and Border Protection trusted-traveler programs such as Global Entry. For information, go to: www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/how-participate.

After being approved, passengers can use a dedicated lane at airports. This should make things faster for everyone, in theory, because it lightens the load in the regular security line. Says Pistole: “You keep your shoes on, you keep your belt on, keep your light jacket on, keep your small-sized liquids and your laptop in your carry-on bag — you don’t even have to take those out — and then you go through a walk-through metal detector. We’ve done pre-screening of you.

“We’ve had about 45 million children, 12 and under, who have gone under expedited physical screening. It helps us in terms of expediting the time it takes to screen, especially for the elderly. We’ve probably had 25 million people, 75 and older, who are allowed to keep their shoes on; it’s all based on what past and current intelligence informs us of. If you haven’t been through TSA PreCheck, yet I strongly encourage you to sign up.”

The agency expects a big bump in users this fall when passengers can apply for enrollment directly through TSA — at a cost of $85 for five years. For information: www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/tsa-precheck-application-process.

Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, TSA cannot add personnel to handle the new influx, so your wait may feel like a familiar one, no matter what lane you’re in.

A smoother, faster experience for fliers

By John Laughter

In 2010, the Transportation Security Administration, together with Delta, began working on a proposal to make greater use of intelligence in an effort to improve passenger screening and reduce security checkpoint wait times at the nation’s busiest airports. It was an obvious benefit to our customers and we eagerly developed, with the agency, the tools and resources needed to implement the program. Three years later, thousands of Delta customers take advantage of expedited screening every day using TSA PreCheck lanes available at all of our hubs, including our busiest in Atlanta, in addition to many of the largest cities we serve.

The TSA’s PreCheck program has streamlined the security screening process while maintaining a high level of safety. Expedited screening lines at our most trafficked airports means our customers benefit from a better checkpoint experience that truly enhances the overall customer experience when they fly. Customers can leave on their shoes, belts and light outerwear and keep their laptops and compliant liquids stowed in their bags, allowing them to get to their departure gate quicker and with less hassle. The program also reduces congestion and limits the number of passengers who are required to go through more comprehensive screening measures, which reduces wait times for everyone. TSA PreCheck allows the agency to focus more of their resources on passengers who don’t fly regularly or who may require additional screening.

Here in Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport, Delta customers have benefited from expanded TSA PreCheck screening lanes with a convenient designated queuing area immediately adjacent to the check-in desks. Delta has also worked with the TSA to add PreCheck security lanes at our new, state-of-the-art JFK Terminal 4 and our other hubs and large stations as we continue to look for opportunities to expand to new destinations around the country.

Earlier this year, Delta became the first major airline to mark customer boarding passes with an indicator to let them know in advance that they are eligible for TSA PreCheck screening, so they know exactly where to go for the required screening. Also in the last year, Delta supported the expansion of the program to include eligibility for those customers flying on international itineraries, giving them continuity in their travel regardless of destination.

Because of its clear benefit to our customers, Delta continues to support, both in principle and in resource, the expansion of the TSA’s PreCheck program to include more of the traveling public. In July, the TSA announced a new application program that allows customers to purchase a five-year membership and, together with airlines like Delta, continues to look for innovative ways to further expand risk-based screening initiatives. The TSA has indicated their intention to expand the program to include even more flyers and we look forward to a continued partnership with the agency to bring the benefits of a more seamless travel experience to more of our customers.

John Laughter is senior vice-president of Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance at Delta Airlines.

Security honor for MARTA

By Aston Greene

Recently, the federal Transportation Security Administration presented MARTA with its Gold Standard Award, its highest commendation.

MARTA was one of 16 transit systems nationwide to be honored for improving transit security and emergency management.

In April, the MARTA Police Department also received the Gold Standard and Standards of Excellence Award from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), making us the only transit system police department to receive top honors from both CALEA and TSA in the same year.

MARTA Police Chief Wanda Dunham, and the approximately 330 sworn officers serving under her command, appreciate the recognition we’ve received. But we are not resting on our laurels.

Law enforcement has been undergoing dramatic changes. In response, our department is melding traditional community policing techniques with 21st century solutions.

Our goal is to remain at the forefront of law enforcement using innovative, customer-focused policing strategies thanks in large measure to support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

MARTA officers are, of course, primarily focused on engaging with our passengers, maintaining order and, when necessary, making arrests. MARTA’s police force is also responsible for meeting or exceeding national emergency response directives as a Tier One transit agency.

After the September 11th attacks, Tier One systems in large urban areas were deemed “high risk” by DHS because of our respective passenger volumes, population densities and underground infrastructure.

Under this federal designation, MARTA must demonstrate core capabilities in defending against potential acts of terrorism and other hazards. As such, we have embarked on a security and emergency management program that is a cornerstone of our efforts.

Throughout the year, MARTA conducts full-scale preparedness drills and joint security activities.

MARTA police are also charged with forecasting long-term security initiatives – such as the installation of digital surveillance cameras on all buses, trains and paratransit vehicles – that are incorporated into the agency’s 10-year capital program.

MARTA’s Board of Directors and General Manager/CEO Keith Parker have made security a top strategic priority. By protecting customers and employees, MARTA is better positioned to boost ridership and increase revenues. Going forward, this means:

• Riders should expect a more visible uniformed presence on the system.

• Strict enforcement of our new “code of conduct,” with violators suspended, or permanently banned from MARTA.

• Using our vehicle camera security system – partly funded by DHS – as a “force multiplier” to deter crime and to counter potential terrorist threats.

Most of all, it means our customers will benefit from the unwavering vigilance of law enforcement professionals whose recent accomplishments are a testament to our constant pursuit of excellence.

Sgt. Aston Greene is Emergency Preparedness Unit Commander for MARTA.

21 comments Add your comment


September 4th, 2013
8:46 am

I don’t fly much. Evidently, that is a good thing. But the thought of flying off in a plane with passengers who have not been screened does not appeal to me. I don’t think terrorists have forgotten us or have gone out of business. They may prefer our racing events at the moment but air travel can be so spectacular for them..

“Give me liberty or give me death” is a fine thought that must remain in the foundation of our government. But choosing death in an airplane was not in our founder’s foresight.

If you don’t want to deal with TSA, don’t fly. If you fly and have honest complaints (not gripes),report them. If you expect TSA workers to be robots, don’t be surprised when they turn out to be human. Until you are perfect, don’t expect them to be. Smile and the world smiles with you, etc. etc. etc. Well, try it anyway!