After sitting on a plane for more than eight hours, the last thing you want to deal with is someone yelling at you. Yet that’s what happened when we returned to the U.S. on Saturday from two weeks in Portugal. And let me just say that I hope I never need to fly through Philadelphia International Airport again.
The immigration people bungled line management, yet yelled at passengers for not forming proper lines. It got worse as we entered security for our connecting flight. TSA employees were belligerent and constantly yelled at rightfully-confused passengers. They behaved like prison guards, treating us all like we were convicted felons. What a great way to introduce American hospitality to first time visitors!
One point in particular caused massive confusion in the security line. As we came upon a cluster of people we noticed a small sign that said something like “TSA Precheck Line.” Here the line bottlenecked, and a rather unmotivated TSA employee asked to see people’s tickets — when he felt like it (he never asked to see ours). Apparently, if they had “TSA Pre Check” printed on their ticket they needed to go in the line marked by the small sign.
We didn’t see this on our tickets so we stayed where we were, all the while listening to abuse being hurled at passengers who incorrectly chose the pre-check line.
We eventually survived this hell and made it to our connecting flight with only minutes to spare. But I kept wondering what this pre-check thing was all about.
Pre check for confusion.
According to the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA Pre√TM (as they like to brand it) “allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.”
Aha, now I do recall hearing about this when I’ve been prompted to apply as a “trusted traveler.” It’s currently available at 97 airports across the country, and through several airlines. The TSA is working on a fee-based application process so even more people can be eligible.
Of course this brings to mind lots of questions in the “Won’t This Undermine All The Security Measures Put In Place” department. Or asked another way, are we all currently suffering through pointless security procedures?
But back to the problems in Philly. While digging through the sites’ FAQs the following question caught my eye: “Will participants know in advance that they have been cleared for expedited screening?”
The short answer is “Not easily.” Apparently, the only notification right now is a small bit of type printed on your boarding pass.
Imagine getting off of a transatlantic flight, frazzled and stressed about your next connection and angry with the boot-up-the-ass treatment you just got from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, only to be yelled at because you didn’t realize you have “TSAPRECHK” printed in tiny type on your boarding pass.
Even funnier (or, more tragic) is this advice from the FAQ:
“As the other TSA Pre✓™ participating airlines begin to offer similar functionality, passengers may see additional airlines implement notifications to eligible passengers. Therefore, if a passenger is traveling on a TSA Pre✓™ eligible itinerary and has opted in through their airline or is eligible through a Trusted Traveler program, they should still proceed to the TSA Pre✓™ lane to determine eligibility.”
Hah! I watched one man try to go through the pre-check line to see if he was eligible. Moments later he was escorted back by a TSA officer who angrily told him that he needed to go all the way back to the beginning of the security line. Punished by the TSA for doing what the TSA advises.
When it comes to customer service, Philadelphia International Airport is a failed state in need of an overhaul. And maybe this new system works better in more intelligently managed airports. But TSA Pre Check, as it currently stands, is a terrible way to try to improve the security process. It reminds me of all those self checkout lanes that grocery stores implemented years ago. They seemed like a good idea, but often made it slower and harder to get out of the store and still required a full-time employee. I’ve noticed many stores have removed those lanes. It’s time for the TSA to reevaluate their system and try to get it right.