For Your Next Flight, Hope the TSA 'Randomizer' Puts You in a Faster Lane

Travelers wait in line to go through security in the departure hall at San Francisco International Airport Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

When you want to get through airport security faster, the screeners have an app for that. To clear waiting lines more quickly, the Transportation Security Administration uses a “randomizer” app at about 100 U.S. airports to sort which travelers get directed into the PreCheck lane, the one where you don’t need to doff your shoes, belt and jacket.

The app is part of a risk-based approach called “managed inclusion” that the TSA began using last year and includes behavior-detection officers or canines on duty to smell for traces of explosives. (The agency says its dogs don’t sniff for illegal drugs.) In a much slower process, TSA agents also swab travelers’ hands or suitcases and run the tests through machines before letting passengers board.

The TSA uses software to randomly choose whether travelers in the PreCheck lanes go left or right, making it harder for potential terrorists to detect any patterns. The randomization also helps to prevent accusations of racial or other profiling. The program is used at peak travel times when queues increase, such as early morning and evening. The agency says PreCheck lanes can screen 300 people per hour, about twice the number at its regular lanes. Over time, as more travelers enroll in the $85 program, the agency expects its use of the managed inclusion techniques to decline, spokesman Ross Feinstein says.

“The whole premise of risk-based security is that the vast majority, if not everybody, traveling every day…are low risk, and so how can we differentiate between those people based on some prescreening, based on information that they share we already know about them such as certain government employees?” TSA Administrator John Pistole said in March at a House hearing.

The TSA, which asked Congress for a $100 million cut in its 2015 budget, promotes its risk-based security techniques as one way to save taxpayers money. The agency plans to eliminate more than 1,400 employees and close six of its 26 federal air marshal field offices. Bring on the apps.

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