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Hot Take: Will This Improve TSA PreCheck?

Would a “use it or lose it” clause to our PreCheck help?

Everyone hates the TSA checkpoint at the airport—it’s invasive, lines are often long, and the process often seems arbitrary (more on that later). Some travelers who hate the long lines will happily pay a fee to allow the government to briefly be more invasive, running a background check to put together a security profile that deems them lower risk so they can use a dedicated line and skip some of the more annoying asks at the checkpoint—like removing their shoes. It’s called TSA PreCheck.

Once you’ve gotten TSA PreCheck, however, there’s another layer of frustration. There’s no guarantee the PreCheck line will actually be shorter–sometimes it’s actually longer and/or slower because there are fewer agents working it. and oftentimes, the screening process itself will be held up by passengers seemingly unaware of the dispensation afforded to them. They’ll take off their shoes and their outerwear, take their electronics and liquids out of their bag—in general, they’ll fuss like a regular old passenger in the regular old line, to the silent fury of those waiting behind them.

It’s the exact complaint in this Reddit thread, and the user comes up with an intriguing suggestion. In order to limit the number of shoe-taker-offers in the TSA PreCheck line, why not implement a minimum use requirement? To keep TSA PreCheck, a user would need to fly a set number of times per year, just to make sure they’re up to speed and don’t waste precious time slipping their shoes off.

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Because if there’s something travelers need, it’s something else to fret over. We don’t have a hard enough time game planning how to regain elite status in our favorite airline mileage program or figuring out how to use that credit from that plane ticket we couldn’t use—why not add a “use it or lose it” clause to our PreCheck, too, eh?

For the record, TSA hasn’t made any public statements that they’re even considering putting limits on the number of users in the program or putting minimum use requirements for the travelers who are already signed up. Just imagine the administrative nightmare—people just missing the quota and asking for exceptions. And what do they do when that happens? Just sign up again—and take off their shoes purely out of spite?

Perception Isn’t Reality

I have TSA PreCheck, and I’m admittedly one of the silent furies when I watch someone taking off their shoes.

But I say nothing. Why? Because I don’t have enough information.

I have a pair of travel shoes I have to take off—even in the TSA PreCheck line. Now, they’re slip-on clogs (I hate shoes I can’t slip into or kick-off—or worse, have to sit down to put on), so they come on and off with ease, but they alarm the metal detector about half the time, so I tend to take them off. It’s also not lost on me how many people in line watching me do that are silently screaming to themselves. Do I not know what I’m doing?

Do I know I’m in the PreCheck line?

I also have to take things out of my bag on occasion. I enjoy a scented candle, and I’ve learned by trial-and-error that they look suspicious going through the X-ray, and my bag will get pulled for secondary inspection if I don’t take it out.

The point is that those travelers “breaking the rules” in the PreCheck line may not be doing so out of ignorance, but out of experience. If taking off one’s shoes unnecessarily and taking out one’s bag of liquids when they don’t need to causes an hour delay to the security line, it might be worth addressing, but it’s really seconds and minutes we’re talking about here. Although it feels great when it happens, there’s no medal for making it through security in thirty seconds or less. You’re going through an airport X-ray machine, not trying to gain half a knot of speed in an America’s Cup race.

How to Be Zen About It

I control nothing, is a good mantra on a stressful travel day. Yes, as Americans we’re taught from birth to believe we’re masters of our own destiny, with the ability to tackle and fix any problem we face with (fist pump) positivity and (slows down for emphasis) tenacity.

Not in airport security lines. When we buy a plane ticket, we agree with the government that taking to the nation’s airways (which are owned by the people of the United States and managed by the federal government on our behalf) in a metal tube with thousands of pounds of flammable fuel onboard is a security threat, so we agree we cannot do so until the TSA has ensured we don’t have anything on our person or in our luggage that is a threat to security or safety.

Yes, airports are annoying, because they’re one of the few places where we have to commune with everybody. American lives have become more insulated. We can stream the television programs and films we want exactly when we want. We can create online communities with like-minded people, read only the news coverage from outlets we’re aligned with, choose a university that generally leans the same way we do, and we can choose which city or state we want to live in based on our political affiliation.

Airports are the exception to that. Everybody—celebrities, politicians, foreign tourists, million-miler frequent fliers, first-time fliers, travel writers—get funneled into the same TSA PreCheck line if they’ve paid for the privilege. In those brief few moments where we’re forced to spend a few frantic, frustrating moments together so we can all be on our way, how about we just grin and bear it? Take it for the completely-out-of-our-control inconvenience that it is, rather than cooking up fantastical pie-in-the-sky fantasies about kicking out the undeserving occasional fliers who dare to cause us to break stride.

Because that person in front of you, kicking off their shoes and putting them through the X-ray even though they “don’t have to” might not be the once-a-year flier who has forgotten the rules. It might be me. And I can assure you, I know what I’m doing.

bobdel June 15, 2024

As a long-time TSA PreCheck participant, I find great variation in the competence and procedures followed from one airport to another.  Recently I was instructed to remove my shoes, glasses, hat, jacket, belt, watch, wallet, everything from my pockets.  The agent patted me down and still declared that I did not pass inspection.  I stated that the removal of additional clothing would requlired a private room.  A supervisor came over and stated that I passed inspection.

7catsmom2737 June 7, 2024

A better solution might be for TSA to be consistent throughout the country. I've  had Global Entry since its  inception and I constantly get contradictory instructions...leave your jacket on, take your jacket off, everything  in bins, only jackets and computers in bins, only computers in nauseam. And to add to the stress of the moment these instructions are almost always shouted rather than given in a calm, normal tone. And, yes, on one occasion I was instructed to remove my shoes.
The security experience in the USA is vastly different than that of other countries I regularly travel to, several have signs and pictographs along the line, informing travelers of procedures. But in EVERY case instructions are given in a calm, measured "inside" tone.
So before punishing people who make the odd error, let's  look at doing something about the abysmal performance of the TSA. I submit this with profound apologies to those officers who already perform in a calm professional manner. Most notably those officers at Newburgh NY Airport. Who should be sent around the USA to train their their colleagues.
And, what's with these self important pax who can't wait 2 minutes for a fellow human who may be a bit confused.


AS a perso nwho continually is "helpeed" by other travelers when he takes off his shoes (which are steel toed boots and set off the scanners all the ime) I have zero sympathy for this article which I think is spiteful and wrogn in many cases. Once you have been sent back two or three tiems becasue you have two PCs or a PC and an ereader tehn you tend to take them out to avoid the problem despite what the people behind you think. Perhaps recognizing yoru tiem is as valuable as my time might help.