By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
More than 70 travelers breezed through the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck screening process early Monday, receiving clearance to bypass long security lines at 160 national airports.
Inside a small room at Missoula International Airport, passengers enrolled in the program by providing fingerprints and submitting to a criminal background check. The process took less than five minutes.
“When you get to bigger airports, it can save you 20 or 30 minutes to get through some of the larger airports,” said Mike Peterson. “You just whisk through the lines in PreCheck. I always feel sorry for the people standing in lines with babies crying and people screaming.”
The TSA launched the PreCheck program in 2013 in an effort to expedite the screening process at airports. More than 65 million Americans are expected to fly this year, though only 2.2 million have enrolled in the program, including 1,200 travelers in Bozeman and 530 in Kalispell.
Low-risk passengers approved for the program are permitted to leave on their shoes, belt and light outer jacket when passing through security. Laptops can remain bagged, along with liquids and gels.
“I was just in Seattle last week, and there were substantial 20-minute wait lines there,” said Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport. “If you had PreCheck, it would accelerate that process. While it will help here in Missoula, it will probably help even more in those larger hubs.”
Jensen, who went through the PreCheck screening process on Monday, anticipates more passengers to fly from Missoula this summer. At times, he said, security lines back up, especially during morning hours when the airport is at its busiest.
“The early-morning bank, that’s when we really want people to come to the airport with plenty of time because we will have lines, both at the ticket counter and the checkpoint,” Jensen said. “This will help facilitate the movement through those lines.”
TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers said more than 160 airports participate in the TSA program, along with 13 airlines including Alaska, Allegiant, Delta and United, all of which serve Missoula.
Applicants looking to register in the program must submit fingerprints and receive clearance through a national database to ensure they aren’t a flight risk and haven’t convicted of a disqualifying crime. An application fee is $85 is required.
“This will make it easier to get through airport security,” said business traveler Eric Mittelsteadt, who arrived from Bozeman to register for the program. “At some of the airports, like Las Vegas and Atlanta, getting through security takes time. The lines are shorter in PreCheck.”
Registration continues Monday through Friday at Missoula International Airport until April 15. For more information on the program and registration, call 406-728-4381.
What is PreCheck?
The program allows registered passengers to use special lanes at the checkpoint. They don’t have to remove shoes, belts and light outer jackets. Laptops and liquids stay in bags, as do laptop computers.
How do the airlines know who has clearance?
Once approved for the program, passengers get a “known traveler number.” Passengers can enter the number while making reservations online. The boarding pass will reflect PreCheck status.