Plane and simple
TSA’s precheck program aims to get airline travelers through security faster

By NICHOLAS DETTMANN - Daily News

Dec. 17, 2017

Lead TSA Officer Mark Srnec watches a man check his back pockets at the TSA security checkpoint Friday at the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. General Mitchell International Airport is one of a several airports across the country to offer a TSA precheck program by way of an interview. The goal of the program is to reduce the amount of time spent at the security checkpoint line.
John Ehlke/Daily News

As Andy Williams’ song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

For travelers, airline ones specifically, the holidays can be a stressful one. A program sponsored by TSA aims to lower those stress levels.

The program is called “Precheck.” In a nutshell, it allows qualified travelers the opportunity to significantly reduce their wait time at security checkpoints at airports throughout the U.S.

General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee has an enrollment period set to begin Monday and go through Friday.

“It’s highly recommended,” said Harold Mester, marketing and public relations manager for the airport. “If you want to get through the checkpoint faster, the lines are much shorter in the precheck lanes.”

Those enrolled and certified through the TSA program not only get a special line at the security checkpoint, passengers also don’t need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts and light jackets.

According to data on TSA’s website, in November, 93 percent of passengers in the program waited less than five minutes in line. More than 5 million people are registered and the program is available in most major airports throughout the U.S., as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and through 42 airlines.

Frank Pipia from the TSA Wisconsin Field Office said the program started about five years ago.

“It’s growing rapidly,” he said. “The lines might be longer, but they’re not spending as much time in line.”

He advised some security procedures, such as random screening, may still apply in the Precheck line.

“TSA is consistently adjusting screening processes to stay ahead of threats,” Pipia said when asked if there were issues raised about the program related to national security.

The upcoming enrollment period at Mitchell is 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7-11 a.m. and noon-4 p.m. Friday. The center is located in room B133 in the baggage claim area at Mitchell. Purchasing an airline ticket is not required to attend the enrollment interview. Those interested in signing up must bring either a U.S. passport or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, and a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

The cost to enroll is $85 and it’s good for five years, which Pipia said comes out to $17 per year and pays for itself after two uses. Travelers 12 and younger or 75 and older don’t have to apply for membership. It is preferred others between the ages of 13 and 74 enroll in the program, but in cases with those 13-18, Pipia said every attempt is made to keep families together as long as there is an adult enrolled in the program.

Enrollment can be done online at www.tsa.gov/precheck.

“It has been very popular because it reduces the stress of travel,” he said. “It’s a lot lower. It’s a real desirable screening process.”

Also on TSA’s website is a full list of all participating airports and airlines. In Wisconsin, nine airports participate, including Milwaukee. The others include Madison’s Dane County Regional Airport, Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport and La Crosse’s Regional Airport.

Other notable airports around the U.S. that utilize the program include Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County and Lambert-St. Louis International.

During the upcoming enrollment period, walk-in appointments are welcome, but Mester said “you may have to wait a while.” Appointments take about 15 minutes, he added.

“I know at Mitchell Airport it’s very well received,” Mester said. “Typically the security checkpoint is one of the more stressful parts of traveling. (The program is) welcomed by travelers.”
 

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Holiday travel

On Thursday, AAA announced a record-breaking 107 million Americans are estimated to take their holiday celebrations away from home during the holiday travel season, which is defined as Dec. 23-Jan. 1.

Nick Jarmusz, Wisconsin Public Affairs director for AAAThe Auto Club Group, said about 6.4 million travelers will do so by air. That doesn’t count any passengers who may travel for business in that span.

“That’s about a 4 percent increase,” he said.

The increase matches a trend from the last few years.

“It’s been going up, tracking along with traveling overall,” Jarmusz said. “All modes of travel are up about 3 percent. We contribute the bump in air travel to airfare for the top 40 domestic destinations being 20 percent cheaper than they were last year. That makes air travel a more affordable option.”

When asked why, Jarmusz said, “Part of it is competition. ... The economy is the other end of the equation. We’re seeing wages increase over the last couple of years and people have more money available.”
 

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Gas prices

AAA said Thursday that 90 percent of holiday travelers choosing to drive will find the most expensive year-end gas prices since 2014. As of Tuesday, the national average price was $2.45 — which is 24 cents more than last year on that date, but 11 cents less than it was a month ago.

Jarmusz said AAA expects gas prices to decrease through the end of the year and into 2018.
 

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Tips for airline travel

Pipia said not much has changed as far as what is and what is not allowed in luggage and carry-on for flights.

“It’s important for travelers to check tsa.gov,” Mester said. “Of course, weapons are not allowed through checkpoint. Leave those items at home or in your vehicle. I think people generally know the rules of the checkpoint.”

Pipia said expect some changes in the coming months as far as rules surrounding electronics.

Otherwise, most of the rules or guidelines that have been in place for the last several years remain in place.

“It’s always best to arrive at the airport early,” Mester said. “We recommend two hours, particularly if you’re checking bags; it takes longer to travel with small children or those that require special or wheelchair assistance.

“We always encourage people to check flight status at mitchellairport.com. We post live flight information.”

Pipia said TSA has registration for those requesting additional assistance, such as elderly or disabled, at least 72 hours ahead of departure. Those wishing to do utilize that are asked to call 1-855787-2227.

Pipia also suggested to leave presents unwrapped.