NEW YORK -- The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its PreCheck expedited screening program to passengers on international airlines.
Air Canada on Tuesday became the first international carrier to participate, with TSA officials saying other foreign airlines would soon sign on. Airlines need to first update their computer systems to embed extra information in their boarding pass bar codes as well as printing a PreCheck logo.
Passengers in PreCheck lanes get to leave on their shoes, belt, and light jackets, keep liquids and laptops in their bags and use a standard metal detector, not the full-body scanners. Security agents can process twice as many passengers in PreCheck lanes in the same time as in a normal lane. That allows the agency to dedicate more staff to other passengers -- those who theoretically pose the higher risk.
The program was launched in October 2011 at four airports. Today, there are PreCheck lanes at 118 of the roughly 450 U.S. commercial airports. About 5 million of the 14 million passengers who fly each week receive expedited screening.
The program is open to some elite frequent fliers of U.S. airlines as well as the 2.4 million travelers enrolled in one of the Customs and Border Protection's expedited entry programs: Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri.
The TSA has also started enrolling people directly in PreCheck through its own centers at 17 airports and 237 off-airport locations. Since it opened the application process in December, nearly 204,000 people have enrolled in the program which costs $85 and is good for five years. Global Entry costs $100 but requires a passport.
The TSA has been aggressively trying to get more people enrolled in the program. It can't justify having dedicated lanes at 118 airports unless there are enough people to actually use them. That's why the TSA has been pulling people out of the normal security lines into PreCheck lanes. Those passengers are either randomly picked, passed by with canine teams or monitored by behavior detection officers.
The government is also turning to foreign carriers to sign on to the program, to help ease checkpoint congestion. The airlines are responsible for paying for their computer upgrades, hence some of the hesitation.
With Air Canada's entrance, the TSA says other foreign carriers are soon to follow. Ideally, the biggest benefit would be from airlines with the most U.S. passengers: British Airways, Air France and German carrier Lufthansa. But TSA officials said they are working with international carriers large and small.
Air Canada operates to more points to the U.S. than any other foreign carrier. It currently serves 49 U.S. airports, but passengers will only be use PreCheck at 41 of them. For now, Air Canada passengers can only use the program if they print or reprint their boarding passes at airport check-in desks or kiosks. Later this year, those printing boarding passes at home or using the airline's mobile app will also be included.
The Canadian airline joins nine U.S. airlines who participate in the program: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America.