Good News at Airport Security
Ever get a call from a survey-taker, who, once he finds out you qualify for AARP membership, hangs up? American culture always has and always will be youth-obsessed, but now some of you mature citizens can get the last laugh as you sail through airport security.
And so can little kids. And so can the rest of you, if you fly often enough or can pay for the privilege.
As for middle-aged, once-a-year flyers who are watching their pennies, same old slog I'm afraid, though I do have some tips that will help. Let's see how security has changed, where you fit in, and how to make it as painless as possible.
For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com
Are you 75 or older? Terrific. If you fly out of Chicago O'Hare, Denver International, Orlando's MCO airport or Portland, Oregon, you get to keep your shoes on.
This pilot program for older travelers is part of what the Transportation Security Administration's Greg Soule tells me is the agency's "ongoing effort to move away from a one-size-fits-all security experience" and I think it's just great.
Besides keeping your Nikes on, you also get to keep your jacket on plus you're promised fewer pat-downs (or 'strip searches' to use the memorable phrase one elderly traveler employed while recalling her disastrous encounter with the TSA's hands-on approach). Now just so there are no misunderstandings, any and all obnoxious security measures could still be used on elderly travelers because the TSA likes to keep the bad guys guessing - but they will be minimized.
So don't even think about lying about your age (especially since your ID makes this a complete waste of time). If you're 75, be proud. Shout it from the rooftops, or at least at one of the four airports mentioned above, and I have no doubt these mature-traveler security measures will spread to many more airports in the coming months.
That's what happened last fall with the introduction of the then-new kids 12-and-under security system; it quickly spread to checkpoints across the country and now parents no longer have to stress out (and waste time) forcing uncooperative little feet back into tiny sneakers since kids can keep shoes on now too. I guess that video of a 6-year-old getting a pat-down really did stick in the craw of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood because once it went viral, things changed fast.
Now if kids (and older travelers, too) set off any "alarm" when going through a body scanner, they can go through again, even 'multiple times' instead of getting an automatic pat-down. Again, pat-downs can still happen, but at least we're moving in the right direction.
A lot of other flyers are moving in the right direction, too, including yours truly thanks to all those new TSA PreCheck lanes which will be featured in 35 airports by year's end. Still in test-mode, PreCheck is invitation-only for elite miles members with American and Delta. If you are one of the chosen few, you can breeze through security with shoes, belt and jacket on while your laptop stay in its case and that Ziploc bag of shampoo and lotion remains in your carry-on. Later this year, we're told, elite miles member of Alaska, United and US Airways will come aboard as well.
There is a second way to get in on PreCheck, and this is where the cost-factor comes in. You pay the TSA nothing, but you do have to cough up a $100 application fee to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see if you qualify for one of its trusted traveler programs. This means you to give up some personal information but nothing that you wouldn't provide to an airline frequent-flyer program. Plus that $100 fee is good for five years.
Worth it? A TSA spokesman tells me there's been a large spike in trusted traveler applications so it would seem so. But what if you don't qualify for any of these "get-out-of-jail-free" programs - is there anything you can do to make security simpler?
Couple of things: Pack your carry-on with the X-ray image the screener will see in mind. This means, neatness counts. Wrap up your electronics' cords in orderly bundles so the screener won't keep you waiting while he/she pulls aside your bag to see what all those loose wires are. Ditto for the small liquids; keep them to regulation size in the proscribed clear plastic bag, and get ready to pull it out as soon as you hit the conveyor belt to avoid delays. Slip-on shoes are great so you don't have to waste time lacing them up again. Get that laptop out, belt off, and coins out of pockets before being asked.
Granted, none of this sounds like much - a few seconds here, a few seconds there - but it all adds up and when it comes to security screening, any time you can shave off the dreaded line wait is time you can spend relaxing at Starbucks with your iPad.