Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of TSA PreCheck at O'Hare

It seems like every time I write a blog post, my initial reaction is to apologize for not blogging more frequently.  I have to make it a point not to apologize, for two reasons:

1 - Blogging is inherently a narcissistic hobby anyway (to think anyone's interested in my take on things), so my apologies would only be directed at myself

2 - I've actually been busy working on an epic blog recap of our recent trip to Spain.  It's not finished, but it's already 14 pages and we've only just left the first of four cities (It's a race to completion between my Spain write-up and Gaudi's Sagrada Familia)

But with a little time to spare and the fact that I left our Spain recap notebook at home, I thought I'd throw out my two cents of the recent experiences I've had with the TSA at O'Hare over the last couple weeks.

It seems like such a long time ago now, but when I got a mysterious email from American Airlines inviting me to opt-in to some expedited security screening process, I remember being excited.  The excitement turned to a bit of bemusement as I continued to read about a new TSA initiative and how it would promise to save people time but didn't actually see any progress.  I hit an all-time low when I heard the program was set to open at DFW airport, but wasn't going to officially start accepting passengers until the day AFTER I was scheduled to fly out of there.

That whole period was then interrupted by a stretch of local project work, which is great for my wife and I but terrible for keeping my travel habits up to date (altogether, I guess I prefer making my wife and I happy)

Then, a few weeks ago, I booked flights on AA out of ORD, and early one Monday morning I made my way to Security checkpoint #8 in Terminal 3, where an agent stood with a boarding pass scanner at the entrance to a new security line.  The sign next to her read, 'TSA PreCheck', and my mind was officially blown at the improved convenience and efficiency.

All of it was destroyed in the next couple of weeks, but let's start with the good news.

If you're on the TSA PreCheck security list (which basically means AA or United asked you to opt-in or you have a Global Entry membership), you get your boarding pass scanned out at the beginning of a security line.  Assuming it clears (a big assumption, it turns out), you're guided into a separate security queue.

It's just like any other TSA security line at an airport, with one glaring exception.  THERE AREN'T ANY OTHER PEOPLE WAITING IN FRONT OF YOU!

Why is that?  Because they've gone through security so fast they don't have time to slow down.

I made it through in maybe 30 seconds, and it was everything I imagined it could be.

I didn't take off my shoes.  I kept my pants up with my belt the entire time.  I didn't take my computer out of my bag.  I even felt easier about ignoring the TSA's stupid liquid bag rules that I never pay attention to.

Bags on the conveyor, walk through a metal detector, retrieve bags, get on with more important business like thinking about anything else.

I was worried I went through too fast, that somewhere around a corner lurked a hidden plainclothes TSA officer waiting to jump out and throw some stupid ineffectual procedure at me.

But there wasn't.  The long kabuki nightmare of airport security was over!

Or so I thought.

Do you want to know the only thing frustrating about an expedited security process is?

When you've opted in and are on the cleared list and the DON'T LET YOU IN!

As you can probably infer, the next week when I returned to security checkpoint #8 at Terminal 3.  I again offered up my boarding pass for clearance into the PreCheck line.

This time, no dice.  No explanation either, just a point to the full security line next door.

No more expedited processing, remember to take your shoes off, your laptop out, and to smile for the $5.50 per hour jerk who gets to look at a naked backscatter image of you.

All that dignity I got back the week before was torched.

It was cruel, to offer such a great advantage, and then for no reason take it away (other than the TSA guidance that they won't always let you in and that they use random screening methods).  If you thought your were mad at TSA security before, just wait until they agree you qualify for expedited processes, then make you stand and watch as others get permission to go ahead while you wait to be treated like any other member of Al Qaeda.  An added bonus, with this random element to whether you clear or not, you certainly can't plan on breezing through security and save time or get extra sleep.  Kudos to the TSA for taking a perfectly good idea and screw-jobbing its most trustworthy fliers.

If I were an airline, I'd be a little ticked at this.  My opinion of American Airlines takes a bit of a hit when they facilitate my membership in this thing and then it backfires and actually makes my experience worse.  If I were one of them, I'd pay the TSA whatever it wanted to make sure everyone on the list could get through quickly (even if it meant asking passengers for more personal details).  I'd let them have anything they wanted...it'd be better than getting my hopes up every time I get to that boarding pass scanner and getting rejected. 

1 comment:

Justin said...

Agree! TSA Precheck back fired for me as a 1K member on United. I cleared the first week, and I have been rejected all three times since. UGH! Major point of frustration. I wrote to United and shared my poor customer experience. They told me it's a TSA thing. Well, United, you allow the PreCheck team to set up camp on your most loyal customer line and then tell them all "NO". Not good. :/