TSA Giveth and TSA Taketh Away

If someone had asked me late last summer, “What does the code, ‘TSA PRECHK’ printed on a boarding pass mean,” I would have shrugged and said, “Does it have something to do with VIPs or frequent flyers?”


That’s about as close as I’d come to a realistic meaning. My first experience with TSA PRECHK took place on Monday, October 20 at DFW Airport when my son and I went to clear security for our flight home to LaGuardia. The first security area we approached only had a traditional x-ray machine to scan passengers. Experience had taught me to avoid these devices because my artificial hip lights up x-ray machines like a slot machine’s jackpot. It doesn’t matter if I tell the agents in advance or produce a card noting I had my hip replaced. If I go through the x-ray, I will be subjected to a body search that even under the best of circumstances is both physically and psychologically invasive.


Not knowing that the alternative devices are called “Advanced Imaging Technology,” (AIT) machines, I asked the first TSA agent I saw, “Where can I find those other machines,” demonstrating what I meant by putting my arms above my head, bending my elbows so my hands almost touch. My pantomime worked and he directed Mike and me to the gate where the AIT was located.


Upon reaching the gate, a TSA agent who checked our boarding passes noted that I was on the wrong line because I had been pre-checked. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what that means?” I asked.


“You can go through this line but he (Mike) can’t as he is not pre-checked.”


“Okay,” I replied, what does it mean?”


“You don’t have to take your shoes off, if you are wearing a light jacket or a sweater, you could keep them on and, if you had a laptop computer, you wouldn’t have to open it and turn it on.”


After we cleared security, I told Mike, “I don’t have a clue about what just happened.”


Almost two weeks later, I printed the boarding passes for my wife’s and my flight to Fort Myers (RSW) for a week’s stay on Marco Island. Both passes had the same notation, we were TSA PRECHK. More confused than ever, I Googled the TSA’s site where I discovered that precheck is designed to expedite travelers the TSA deems secure. These include folks they’ve registered, frequent flyers that participating airlines have nominated or regular passengers who sign up for this service and pass a TSA security check. None of these applied to us, but I did notice that the TSA suggests passengers could be randomly selected.


The next morning at Jet Blues’ JFK Terminal, we were directed to a special line that whisked us through to a special screening area where we didn’t have to remove our shoes and jackets and I didn’t have to turn on my laptop: “Life is good!”


Fast forward a week. I printed out the boarding passes for our return flight only to discover that Mary Ann was pre-checked and I was not. Back at RSW, a friendly TSA agent allowed me to join Mary Ann in her select status. She explained, “To join the program costs $85 for four years. What the computer is doing is randomly putting passengers on the list for one or two flights to wet their appetites to buy into it.”


On the other side of security, Mary Ann noted, “You know, John, we spend $170 on less important things. I think we should do this.”


Of course she was right, or so I thought. Back home I continued my investigation. The upside is easy, as I explained above. Downside issues: The $85 is non-refundable if we are rejected. (Okay.) We need to submit valid passports and arrange an appointment at a center to be fingerprinted. The closest center is in Hicksville, less than 10 miles from our home. (Also okay.)


But even if we pass muster and are accepted into the pre-check program, the rules stipulate that to adhere to the TSA’s rigid code that no group shall be profiled because of this and that, on occasion, when we check in, we will be randomly removed from precheck status and forced to endure ordinary security clearance. W.T.F!


A policy like this only makes sense if you take on the mind set of a government bureaucrat and replace common sense with a warped vision of absolute political correctness. Insanity personified.


I’m not saying I won’t apply, but the thought occurs that after publishing this essay, just exactly what TSA list I will wind up on?