TAMPA — Delta fliers at Tampa International Airport can already enjoy the convenience of using the Transportation Security Administration's prescreening program. By agreeing to undergo background checks in advance, select fliers can get through Airside E security without taking anything off, or opening their laptops, or even taking liquids out of their carry-ons.
But it turns out that the TSA has been even more accommodating than that.
Since November, the federal agency has been using a new pilot program in Tampa called "managed inclusion" to get those fliers who have not been prescreened through security faster. The agency's goal: to get more people to use the underutilized prescreening lines.
TSA officers have already been trained in "behavior detection," a controversial method in which security officers are trained to ferret out security risks by engaging passengers in conversation or by identifying suspicious behaviors. A government report said there is no scientific consensus about the behavior detection methods used by the agency.
Now officers are using that training to enhance convenience. They're identifying passengers who exhibit little or no signs of risk or suspicious behaviors. Officers can then usher those fortunate passengers into the more brisk prescreening lines.
"We have been evolving as an agency and looking for ways to move into risk-based security," said agency spokeswoman Sari Koshetz. "This is an example of risk-based security, and we are happy to be testing it in Indianapolis and Tampa."
Delta is the second-largest carrier at Tampa International and handles almost 250,000 passengers a year. Prescreening is expected to be expanded to Tampa's other domestic carriers, but no timetable has been made public.
The prescreening lines are more convenient — passengers don't have to remove the liquids from their carry-on — but passengers still have to go through security. They still go through metal detectors or advanced imaging scanners, and their bags go through X-ray machines.
"This is definitely a way to improve customer service and get people through security faster," said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. "We're really glad that the TSA chose us as one of their pilot airports."
But "managed inclusion" wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the prescreening program in the first place, which gives qualified fliers the chance to enter an expedited security line.
It's known as the precheck program. It's for domestic flights only, and only U.S. citizens are eligible.
Fliers can apply to join the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs through www.globalentry.gov. They'll undergo a background check and an interview. If they pass, it costs $100 to enroll in the program for five years. But if they're frequent fliers, then the airlines can invite select passengers to enroll in the program at no cost.
Once a flier is eligible, their information is inserted into the barcode of the boarding pass. But their bags will be subject to the usual screening and random checks. And prescreened fliers aren't automatically sent through the expedited security lines.
Whether or not fliers qualify for the program, TSA officers still decide on the spot who gets into the prescreening lines.