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Some San Diego Airport Travelers Skip Security Line With TSA-Pre

Lindbergh Field was one of 60 airports to recently receive TSA-Pre, an expedited airport security screening program.

Travelers wait in an airport security line. Photo Credit:Photo by Alist, Flickr.
Travelers wait in an airport security line. Photo Credit:Photo by Alist, Flickr.
Written by Claire Trageser/KPBS


Some travelers at San Diego International Airport got an extra holiday gift this year: A special "TSA-Pre" marking on their boarding pass allowed them to skip the regular security line.

Lindbergh Field was one of 60 airports to recently receive TSA-Pre, an expedited airport security screening program. Selected travelers get to go through a special security line where they can leave on their shoes, jackets and belts and can keep their laptops and liquids in their carry-on luggage, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Fliers can pay $85 to apply for the program, but others are chosen without paying, or even asking for it, because they meet "TSA-mandated criteria."

Respondents to the KPBS questionnaire who said they received the pre-screened security status without asking are all fairly frequent travelers, but aren't necessarily members of frequent flier programs.

All of the respondents who got TSA-Pre are also middle-aged and white, although the KPBS questionnaire was not a scientific sampling.

Oceanside resident Richard Chmielewski was traveling to Tampa earlier this month when he found the TSA-Pre marking on his boarding pass and got to skip security lines.

"It was such an easy thing, you don't have to take off your shoes," he said. "I walked right through security, just through the metal detector and right up to the gate area. So it was probably a total of not even a minute."

Chmielewski did not apply for the status and is not a member of a frequent flier program, but said he travels fairly regularly.

Although most travelers are thrilled to get to skip security lines, problems can arise when one member of a group is given TSA-Pre and others aren't.

Rancho Santa Fe resident Debbie Anderson was flying to Jacksonville, Fla. with her husband in November and got pre-screened status. She did not apply for it, and said while she doesn't usually travel much, she has flown repeatedly this year.

"When we got to the really long security line in Terminal 2, I got to bypass all of that, which was wonderful," she said. "My husband on the other hand didn't have that privilege, and so I waited half an hour while he had to go through the line.

On the way home, the tables were turned. Anderson's husband got TSA-Pre, and she didn't.

Anderson said while she likes the program, she hopes travelers are still being thoroughly screened, even if they pay the $85 application fee for the pre-screening program. The TSA does not detail its screening process for these applications, but says travelers are not eligible if they've been convicted of a long list of crimes or are flagged by Interpol, terrorist watchlists or "other government databases."

According to the TSA, other U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program like Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS may also be selected for pre-screened status, along with members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

San Diegan Susan Page is a SENTRI member, which allows her quicker passage through U.S.-Mexico border crossings. She said she was selected for TSA-Pre during her recent travels to London and Australia.

"So excited that San Diego finally has it in operation," she said.

betty schulman December 29, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Hi, I flew from San Diego to Las Vegas and returned befor Xmas. I was placed in the TSA special line both ways. Going a buzzer went off and I was informed I had been randomly selected. My arms were wanted and my palms scanned. This took perhaps 30 secs. On the way back a group of Chinese students with passports were placed in the fast line immediately in front of me. I am a Caucasian senior female. I was surprised to see young people with passport ids in the TSA fast line, but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Happy in coronado

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