Wednesday, 24 May 2023
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TSA looks at separate lines for fliers ‘swept’ by canines

Passengers at the USA’s smallest airports will continue to go through security checkpoints just as they have for years. Passengers who’ve been sniffed by bomb-sniffing dogs may soon get a separate security line at some U.S. airports. 

Transportation Security Administration chief David Pekoske revealed those details during a conversation with USA TODAY’s editorial board Wednesday in McLean, Virginia. 

A report by CNN this month suggested the TSA was considering doing away with screening at about 150 of the country’s smallest airports. That’s not going to happen, the agency’s administrator said emphatically. 

“We’re not doing that. Real simple,” Pekoske said. “We looked at that and decided that was not an issue worth pursuing. Off the table.”

(IN-DEPTH: ‘Not worth the risks’: TSA chief will keep checkpoints at 150 smaller airports)

The idea, studied as a theoretical option in the TSA’s annual budget review, would have allowed the agency to cut costs while focusing most of its resources on bigger U.S. airports that account for the majority of the nation’s passenger traffic. 

The idea studied since 2011 was that the TSA could drop federal staffing at airports with planes seating up to 60 passengers and save $115 million per year. Those airports serve about 10,000 passengers per day and require nearly 1,300 TSA workers, who could be shifted to larger airports.

There are about 450 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service, though many of those are small operations with limited passenger numbers.  Thirty of the USA’s busiest hub airports accounted for 72.1% of U.S. enplanements in 2017, according to Airports Council International-North America. 

There are some changes that passengers could soon see. Pekoske said new 3D scanners, which are in about 15 airports, could go into wider use, possibly allowing passengers to move through airports with their shoes on and without removing liquids or other items from their bags. Limits on the liquid amounts – a maximum of one quart-sized plastic bag with no container bigger than 3.4 ounces – will remain. 

“I see nothing that would cause us to increase that liquid limitation,” Pekoske said. 

One big change fliers could see within the next year involves canines. 

“I’m trying to put more canines out into the system, so they’re more present and we don’t just have them patrolling the individual checkpoints at high periods of passenger volume,” Pekoske said. “Our procedures are to deploy the dogs throughout the continuum of when the airport is open.”

He said that could allow the agency to offer expedited screening to some passengers who’ve been sniffed by bomb-sniffing dogs. 

“If you’re swept by a canine, you do have lower risk,” Pekoske said. “The whole idea is put the right level of security based on the risk that we think a passenger suggests.” 

Instead of funneling those passengers into Precheck lines – a practice that has been criticized by politicians and passengers – airports where the agency has space for additional lanes would give those fliers their own lines, Pekoske said.

(RELATED: House panel blasts TSA over Precheck strategies)

He said a prototype phase will go from “late fall maybe into early next year, just to see how it works.” 

Pekoske acknowledged that Precheck passengers might have been unhappy: “I can understand why a Precheck passenger who paid the $85 for the five years (and) voluntarily submitted additional information about themselves for a background check (would be disappointed) when they’re standing in the Precheck lane and see a whole bunch of passengers who are not in Precheck but have been screened by a canine all of a sudden get in front of them.” 

Pekoske said the agency still hopes to get more travelers to sign up for Precheck. 

“Really, we want to encourage more and more people to go into Precheck,” he said. “That’s better security for us, and it ends up being better convenience for the passengers.”

Contributing: Bart Jansen 


Scott Hastings, of the Birmingham Police, with Mira, a German short-haired pointer working inside the replica of an airport terminal used for training.

Erich Schlegel, for USA TODAY

Copyright 2017


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