Speed Through Airport Security Checkpoints, One Way Or Another

airport security

As airport security checkpoints get more crowded and lines get longer, travelers are arriving earlier than ever to make that flight on time. Arrive late; miss the flight. Once at the gate, passengers may wait longer than normal as airlines juggle the start of boarding with actual anticipated takeoff time. Keeping passengers in the aircraft or on the ground too long may result in a hefty fine. While the aircraft may be ready and the flight crew willing, passengers may face delays beyond their control caused by budget cutbacks.

Frequently flying out of Orlando International Airport (MCO), I see crowds on most days at just about any time as vacationers come in town to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or any one of a number of central Florida attractions. Frankly, the thought of the process being slowed down by budget cuts is terrifying to those who work out of that airport.

How terrifying? Enough to make frequent fliers re-think their game plans and look for new ways to expedite the boarding process.

Take The Express Lane
airport securityI recently re-joined CLEAR, the biometric fast pass through security at MCO. I had been a member in 2005 when the service had over 200,000 members. But shortly after a laptop with the names and detailed information of 33,000 CLEAR customers was reported stolen in 2008, the service shut down. Starting back up in 2010, I had thought about joining again but was a bit apprehensive about the whole program and lines seemed to move along pretty well at MCO anyway.

Then came talk of sequestering, budget cuts and TSA downsizing, which quickly reminded me just how much I hate lines, slow people and inefficiency. Example: On a rolling sidewalk at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, clearly marked stand to the right, walk to the left, I made a point of educating our children that “there is no ‘mosey’ lane kids.”

Primed to take the bait of a LivingSocial CLEAR trial offer ($18 for three months, spouse included), we stopped by the CLEAR kiosk not long ago to complete registration. I answered a variety of security questions and gave prints of fingers and thumbs, along with a retina scan and a copy of my passport and driver’s license. The process took about five minutes. From what I could see, that was far longer than those observed going through the CLEAR security checkpoint.

Stopping briefly to verify their identity then right on through the normal x-ray scan without any wait has the potential to save passengers time. One TSA officer told me, without hesitation, that amount of time could be “hours if staffing is reduced.”

The main drawback with CLEAR is that it is only offered in a few airports. Besides Orlando International Airport (MCO), CLEAR service is available at Denver International Airport (DEN), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Westchester NY Airport (HPN).

Will I keep CLEAR after the three-month trial? Hard to say; at an annual rate of $179 per person, frequent fliers working out of a CLEAR-enabled airport will probably have no trouble justifying the price. As reports of actual government cutbacks cause longer lines, even less-than-frequent fliers could suddenly become interested, as I was.

For travelers not based by a CLEAR-enabled airport, there are other options though. To get there, we need to start by thinking outside of the United States.

Global Entry Program
airport securityInternational arrivals can speed up the process of entering the United States by using automated kiosks at most major U.S. airports via the Global Entry Program. I signed up for this one too because I have several international flights coming up in the next few months. The $100 fee is good for five years.

One of several Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs, including SENTRI (expedites crossing between the U.S. and Mexico), and NEXUS (expedites processing between the U.S. and Canada), Global Entry requires a fairly detailed online application to begin.

You’ll need your valid passport, driver’s license and a clean criminal record to get conditionally approved. A face-to-face appointment at an airport processing center completes the application.

TSA Pre
airport securityThe TSA Pre✓ program allows some frequent fliers, invited by their participating host airline (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or US Airways), along with those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program, to speed through the airport screening process for domestic flights.

Odds are that if you qualify for the program through an airline, you already know about it. Those who don’t make it via airline invitation can back up to the Global Entry Program, pay the $100 for five years and enjoy the benefits.

Once enrolled in one of CBP’s eligible Trusted Traveler Programs, like the Global Entry Program mentioned above, air travelers are automatically qualified to participate in TSA Pre when flying a participating airline at a participating airport.

To make that work, once signed up for a Trusted Traveler Program, travelers provide their Trusted Traveler account number in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking travel.

That number, along with reservation information goes into TSA’s Secure Flight system and enables access to the TSA Pre✓ line at participating airports by embedding a secret code in boarding passes.

In addition to a faster lane, TSA Pre✓-approved travelers can leave their shoes, light outerwear and belts on and keep their 311 liquids packed away. Laptops and small electronics no longer have to be removed either. The program is no guarantee of expedited processing, as TSA will continue random checks, but it sure can’t hurt.

Orlando International Airport where I am trying the CLEAR membership is one of those airports.
Observing both the CLEAR line and the TSA Pre ✓ line, CLEAR seems to be the winner for speed. We’ll find out as we test both over the next few months.

Travelers React to Big Changes on Airport Security

[Photo Credits- Flickr user alist - tsa.gov - Chris Owen]

No Hassle Flying Act To Save Time, Safely, For Some

hassleCutting down on the hassle of flying internationally, the No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012 aims to eliminate excessive security screening of connecting baggage at U.S. airports. Currently, checked baggage on all inbound international flights has to be re-screened before being transferred to connecting U.S. flights. To help with holiday travel, congress has a plan.

“As thousands of Americans travel internationally this holiday season, too many will have to deal with the hassle of rescreening their luggage,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in an ABC News Report. “Requiring luggage to undergo the exact same screening process twice in one trip puts a burden on both our international aviation security system and travelers.”

The No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012 is not a one-size-fits-all move. If signed into law, TSA officials would have the ability to waive re-screening of luggage coming off some international flights, using their discretion.Baggage from some international airports undergoes the same high-level screening procedures used at U.S. airports. Right now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection performs U.S. border inspection and clearance of commercial air passengers at 14 airports in Canada, the Caribbean and Ireland. Baggage that has passed through the security system at those airports would not be required to have an additional screening before being transferred to connecting U.S. flights.

Not happy yet? Either is Dan Dicks of Press For Truth who went to the Buffalo International airport in an attempt to help raise awareness about what he believes are intrusive and invasive TSA procedures, as we see in this video:




[Photo Credit- Flickr user Inha Leex Hale]

Liquids Surrendered At Airport Security: Is There An Afterlife?

water bottlesEver looked at the mountain of liquids (or, in my case, that luscious, unopened jar of dulce de leche, and countless yogurts) accumulated at airport security and wondered where they end up? Yeah, me too. I’ve always hoped they go to charity and the water bottles recycled, because I have a bit of an idealist streak beneath my jaded exterior.

Our friend Andy Bender over at Forbes helped get to the bottom of this tricky question, and the answers are somewhat surprising. Rather than being palmed by greasy-haired or hungry TSA agents (cause for immediate termination), large airports divvy up the booty by category and dispose of it accordingly, although smaller volume airports may just lump it as trash.

If you lie awake nights pondering the fate of your spendy conditioner or lotion, here’s the breakdown:

  • Liquids are sorted by type (sunscreen, shampoo, alcohol, contact lens solution, etc.) and emptied into hazmat barrels, which are then collected by waste management companies. They’re disposed of according to environmental regulations (Forbes reports that “water-based solutions are sent to a waste water treatment facility or waste energy recovery facility aka trash-to-stream plant.”
  • Alcohol ends up being treated at fuel-blending facilities because it’s flammable.
  • Large quantities of bottles are “chipped” and recycled, but not smaller volumes, which go to the landfill.

For more information on current regulations taking liquids in carry-on, click here. And here’s a tip: by carrying a refillable water bottle, you help reduce the 1.5 million barrels of oil required for U.S. plastic water bottle production each year.

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[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Pamela Anderson thigh-high boots a problem at airport security

You’d think that world-traveler Pamela Anderson would know about airport security, taking off shoes and possible pat-down procedures prior to boarding an aircraft. Apparently not we see as Anderson, 43, was asked to remove black thigh-high boots to clear security recently.

Being a well-known celebrity does not exempt Anderson and others from the same airport security protocols as anyone else. Just last week, traveling from LAX to Dallas to host the Dallas SuperBash 2011 Super Bowl party at the Fashion Industry Gallery on Friday night, Anderson graciously complied when TSA asked her to remove the boots.

In photos of the incident, DailyMail tells us “Pamela Anderson looks glam, if a tad impractical for flying, as she approaches security at Los Angeles‘ LAX airport”

Speaking of coming into the country, the Canada-native, mother of two teen sons and animal rights activist has some strong views on illegal immigration.

“I’m an immigrant myself. It was a tough road to come to America and work. The American Dream is seductive, but there is a legal way to do it and there would be more jobs here for people if it was honored” reports FoxNews.

Photo: Gettty Images

Anderson’s celebrity status earned through her association with Playboy magazine, television productions Baywatch and Home Improvement and screen roles have made her known world-wide. Still, the boots were a problem and had to go when passing through airport security.

No word on if a pat-down was deemed necessary but you can bet the TSA guys are still talking about it.

“Gate rape” is Urban Dictionary’s Word of the Year. Thanks TSA!

tsa, TSA
TSA
patdowns have gotten a lot of coverage here on Gadling. The tragicomic lengths TSA officials go through to grab some booty keep us safe have created a whole Internet subculture of jokes and rage. There’s even a blog called The Daily Patdown to showcase pictures of security officials looking for the next underwear bomber.

Now the fine folks at Urban Dictionary have named “Gate Rape” as the Word of the Year for 2010. Nobody knows who coined this sadly appropriate phrase, but it’s catching on. For some reason people don’t liked getting groped, especially if they’re Indian diplomats. Perhaps we will be seeing civil and criminal suits for gate rape in the near future?

Urban Dictionary has lots of travel-related slang, such as Travel Nazi and Heather Poole’s greatest invention: Laviating!

Happy Christmahanakwanzaka everybody!

[Image courtesy TSA. You wouldn't believe what I had to do to get it.]