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New Airport Procedures Relieve Headaches for Maine's Frequent Flyers
10/24/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Frequent flyers out there: Are you getting sick of having to take off your shoes, coat and belt every time you go through airport screening? The Transportation Security Administration is rolling out a program designed to take some of the headache out of the whole airport experience. The so-called "pre-check" expedited screening program was originally introduced two years ago at the nation's 40 biggest airports. It's now being rolled out at a number of additional airports, including the Portland International Jetport, and should be available at more than a 100 airports by year's end. Tom Porter has more.

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Agents at the Portland International Jetport stand ready to screen passengers.

"You know, in this day and age of air travel, where it's not fun, this is trying to make it a little more humane," says Portland Jetport Director Paul Bradbury.

Bradbury says the new system allows certain pre-approved travelers a quicker passage through security. Although the program only applies to certain passengers, Bradbury says over time it should speed up the screening process for everyone.

"Because the more passengers we can peel off and screen faster, the faster the overall queue and checkpoint will move in the future," Bradbury says, "'cause you're spending less time per passenger for these pre-check passengers screening here, so the whole line goes faster."

To qualify, it helps if you're a frequent flyer with one of the seven participating airlines. You may then be invited to take part by the airline. Alternatively you may be invited by the TSA, through a so-called "secure flight system" that the agency runs.

If you want guaranteed pre-screening, you have to join a freqeuent traveler program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This option is also open to Canadian citizens. And the program will expand.

"Very soon we're going to be opening an application process for all travelers," says TSA Public Affairs Mananger Ann Davis. "So any U.S. citizens will be able to go online and initiate an application process, and then visit an enrollment center, and pay $85 for five years, give us little information: date of birth, gender, physical description of themselves, as well as their fingerprints."

Davis says this information will be used to make what she calls a risk-based decision as to whether or not the applicant can be offered pre-screening. They can then use designated lanes where they can leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belts, keep laptops in cases and liquids and gels in carry-on bags.

The TSA's Ann Davis says the agency has for several years now been moving away from a "one size fits all" approach to screening.

"And this is a step in that direction," she says. "It comes on the heels of us modifying screening for children under 12 and modifying screening for passengers over 75, as well as active members of the military. These are all segments of the population that intelligence tell us are low-risk."

Also considered low-risk are David Riddiford and his wife Virginia from South Bristol Maine, who on Thursday morning were using Portland Jetport's pre-check line for the first time. "It's much easier yes, it's better, and I hope we'll do it again because the airline selected us," says David Riddiford.

They're bound for Florida, via Philadelphia, and they're in no hurry to catch their flight. "Yes it was very convenient because sometimes we've waited 45 minutes in these lines," Virginia Riddiford says.

Tom Porter: "You've got a lot of spare time on your hands."

Virginia Riddiford: "Yeah, brought my knitting."

Learn more about the TSA's pre-check program.

Photos:  Tom Porter


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