Airport Security

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

With airports busier than ever, airline staffing reductions creating longer lines at check-in, and airport security wait times that can be entirely unpredictable, the old airport “two-hour” rule often leaves just minutes to spare to buy a magazine, grab a snack, or hustle your kids into the bathroom. But there are still ways to get through the airport faster.

[st_content_ad]Saving a few extra minutes here and there along the way can add up in your favor; here are 16 airport tips to get you from your front door to your seat on the plane as quickly and painlessly as possible—as well as some ideas to keep you moving no matter what is going on with your flight.

Get Ahead of the Game

Take these actions well in advance of your trip.

Sign Up for a Trusted Traveler Program

The TSA’s PreCheck program has spread to numerous cities across the U.S. and is now available at more than 200 airports. Members of the program are prescreened and can whiz through security without having to take off their shoes or remove laptops from cases. The U.S. Customs Department’s Global Entry program is another shortcut for frequent international travelers, especially as the federal government immigration and customs lines get longer. It entitles you to skip long customs lines when returning from overseas and includes PreCheck membership.

[st_related]Global Entry vs. PreCheck: Which Is Better?[/st_related]

Buy the Right Gear

Personally, I have found that buying more stuff is not always the best solution to travel problems, as one of the most serious travel problems for many people is having too much stuff in the first place. But there are a few items that are useful enough away from the airport to justify buying mostly for the airport, including slip-on shoes, reusable TSA-approved toiletry bags, and TSA-friendly laptop cases to help speed you through security.

[st_related]Why You Should Never Go Barefoot at Airport Security[/st_related]

Before You Leave Home

Once your flight is within 24 hours, these are the most important steps to take.

Check Flight Status

This tip is almost so obvious that I shouldn’t even include it, but I find that even in my own travels, I often fail to do this one simple but critical thing. Then this summer, I almost got burned. A very early morning flight for my son and me was canceled; luckily, I have a TripIt account and found out about the cancellation before anyone else in the house was even awake. Had that not been the case, I am certain that in the rush to leave before dawn, I would not have checked flight status, and would have gotten a ride to the airport with all our stuff, waved goodbye, headed into the terminal, stood in line, and only then discovered the cancellation. So—check flight status early and often.

Most airlines will text you flight status updates if you sign up on their websites.

Check In Online

Especially if you are not checking bags, this can save you a heap of time. I have found that when checking bags, having a preprinted boarding pass in your hand doesn’t help all that much, and check-in agents often end up reissuing another boarding pass when you check your bags—but it sure doesn’t hurt. Plus, it’s the best way to secure the seat you want aboard the plane. Learn more about online check-in.

Place Documents in an Easily Accessible Place

Before you leave for the airport, put your ID, credit card, and boarding pass in an easily accessible part of your wallet or bag. There are two reasons for this: First, by going through this exercise, you make sure that you don’t leave home without these crucial items. Second, you don’t waste your (and other people’s) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.

Pack Everything Else Out of Reach

Clutter is the enemy of smooth passage through the airport; pack out of reach and sight anything that you will not need between your front door and your airplane seat.

[st_related]10 In-Flight Essentials You Should Never Travel Without[/st_related]

Check the Airport Parking Situation Online

Knowing ahead of time where to park, which lots are open, and how far they are from the terminal can save you a lot of anxiety on your drive in, as well as keep you safer as you navigate torturous and almost always poorly marked airport ring roads. During peak travel periods, lots fill up quickly, so you will want an alternate parking plan.

Many airports are adding parking lot status updates to their websites, while others have automated telephone information. As a side benefit, parking prices are usually displayed, so you can save money as well. At the very least, check the maps so you know where you are going; these also typically show the location of cell phone waiting lots, which can be useful to folks picking you up.

Off-airport lots are also worth considering, both for the ability to reserve a spot in advance and for price savings in many cases.

Know Where to Go

Check the airport maps, hotel shuttle info, and rental car counter details for your destination airport. Check to see if the airport has an app that puts all this information at your fingertips. Flight status updates frequently include the likely arrival gate, so checking the maps at your destination airport can help you get through the baggage pickup, find the rental car counters or shuttle pickup locations, and find rendezvous spots for shuttles to your airport as available. If someone is picking you up, you can also pre-arrange a pickup location so he or she can find you without too much hassle.

At the Airport

Once you arrive at the airport, use these time-saving techniques.

Prep Your Documents

Haven’t already checked in online? Before you get in line to check in, or at least before you get to the front of the line, have in hand all the items and documentation you will need to show the agent. This makes everyone happy—you, airline agents, and the people behind you in line who appreciate your efficiency.

Weigh Your Bags

Many airports are installing scales in front of the check-in areas; if you suspect your checked bag might be overweight, weigh it before you get in line, and do any swapping between your bags before you reach the check-in counter. This also avoids any scrutiny from the check-in agents about your carry-on bag starting to swell.

If you are concerned about baggage weight, your best bet is to weigh bags at home—buying your own luggage scale is inexpensive and will prevent surprises at the airport.

Stow Items in Your Carry-On

Stow everything except your ID and boarding pass in your carry-on bag. This way, when you get to the front of the security line, you are not finding stuff in random pockets, messing with your phone, dropping credit cards and keys, spilling crumpled cash all over the place, and generally ticking off everyone behind you. By the time you get in the security line, you should be as close to ready to go through the actual security machine as possible.

Assess Your Stuff

Take inventory of what you will need to do when you get to the front of the security line. Do a quick mental review of everything you are wearing that you will need to remove (shoes, large jewelry, watch, jacket), and what you have inside your carry-on bag that might need to be taken out (liquids, electronics larger than a cell phone). When you get to the front of the line, blast through your mental inventory and make it happen.

For more help with security, see 10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security and Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions.

Check the Flight Status Boards Again After Security

Unless you are really early, your actual flight time is getting close, and this is when you will start to see gate changes and more reliable departure time estimates.

Get to Your Gate

With that said, though flight status boards are your first stop for directions, go directly to your gate for any breaking information. The official system updates sometimes lag behind reality, so you want to check in at your gate to make sure nothing has changed. Beyond finding out your flight status, by showing up at the gate you will get a sense of how crowded the flight is and figure out which terminal amenities (restaurants, bathrooms) are nearby.


Take these steps to prevent problems before they start.

Program Your Airline’s 800 Number into Your Phone

If you get stuck due to a delayed or canceled flight, you’ll want to be proactive in figuring out your options, as airline folks are typically understaffed and under siege in these situations. If you have the phone numbers of airlines that fly your preferred route programmed into your phone, you will get a lot farther a lot faster than if you don’t.

[st_related]How to Prevent Flight Delays (and What to Do If They Happen Anyway)[/st_related]

Download Apps That Help

When the previously mentioned flight with my son was canceled, TripIt notified me very early on and gave me access to a list of other flights on the route for that day, on both my original airline and other airlines. When I called my airline armed with this info, I was rebooked in minutes, and we went to the zoo for the morning. See this list of airport apps for other ideas that can help.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Money Security Travel Technology

What Is the CLEAR Program, and Is It Right for You?

Post-9/11, airport security went from being largely a formality to downright formidable, with long lines and arcane policies leaving travelers frustrated and flustered. It made sense, to a point, given the shock that followed those attacks; but ever since, the air travel industry has been searching, mostly unsuccessfully, for a better balance between security and efficiency.

The CLEAR program is one such attempt at streamlining the check-in process. 

[st_related]How to Get Paid to Speed Through Airport Security[/st_related]

How CLEAR Works

CLEAR uses biometric data—your eyes and your fingerprints—to check you in at security. The company has dedicated lanes at participating airports, meaning CLEAR customers can bypass the line to check in with TSA (the part where the agent reviews your ID and jots a note on your ticket). CLEAR says skipping the line plus the quick biometric check-in process saves you time and offers a more predictably fast experience.

What Is CLEAR? (and What It Isn’t)

From there, you go through the security screening like any other traveler. This is an important point: CLEAR does not get you around the screening process, and therefore does not replace the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. Instead, CLEAR uses a biometric process to let you cut that first part of the airport security line, thus providing a faster track to the screening portion.

As a reminder, TSA PreCheck grants you expedited passage through TSA lines at hundreds of U.S. airports for domestic flights on dozens of airlines. You get to pass through the screening process without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket. Global Entry includes all the benefits of PreCheck and the added service of expedited reentry to the U.S. from abroad.

CLEAR is really designed to work in tandem with PreCheck, or even with some of the expedited security lanes that come with certain upper level travel classes or elite frequent flyer tiers. Where those programs speed up the screening, CLEAR speeds up the security check-in. Combined with other services, CLEAR says, travelers can enjoy a smooth process from start to finish.

Where Is CLEAR Available?

Currently, CLEAR is available at over two dozen major airports around the country, as well as in several sports stadiums. You can see a full, up-to-date list on CLEAR’s website. 

How Do I Join?

Unlike TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, there’s no interview required, although you do need to appear in-person. CLEAR says it takes “about five minutes” to enroll, and that you can start online before finishing at a CLEAR location. 

“The in-person process includes answering a few simple questions to verify your identity, providing a valid photo ID and payment method, and attaching your biometrics (fingerprints and a picture of your irises) to your newly created account,” according to the companyParticipants must be 18 years old, and an American citizen or legal permanent resident with a valid form of government-issued ID. 

Membership costs $179 per year, but members can add up to three additional adult family members for only $50 per person. Children under 18 can accompany CLEAR members using the CLEAR lane for free. Delta offers a range of discounted memberships for SkyMiles participants.

Should I Enroll in CLEAR?

Unlike Global Entry, which is a slam dunk ‘yes’ for many travelers, CLEAR is not for everyone. Justifying the cost depends on a handful of factors: 

  • First (and most obvious), is CLEAR is available at the airports you use most often?
  • Do you fly often, perhaps two or three times a month?
  • Are you enrolled in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, particularly the last one, CLEAR probably isn’t a worthwhile investment for you. A hundred and eight bucks is a lot to pay just to arrive at the regular security line a little bit faster. Even at a discounted rate with Delta, you have to wonder if you’re really getting anything worthwhile for your membership fee, as the TSA check-in lines can vary wildly in how arduous they are. 

On the other hand, CLEAR may be a good fit for very frequent flyers who use major airports and value efficiency (or simply can’t stand waiting in the TSA checkpoint line). If you’ve already enrolled in one of the expedited security programs, it makes sense to streamline the first half of the security process as well. CLEAR seems like it can deliver on that promise, ensuring you’ll have a more predictable and easily scheduled experience at the airport. 

Even then, though, some travelers may feel that $179 is a lot for what amounts to slightly less hassle. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

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Airport Business Travel

A Guide to Global Entry Renewal

Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

If you’re a Global Entry member, you probably agree: It’s the best $100 you’ll ever spend on travel. Once you’ve skipped the painfully long border control lines on return to the U.S., you don’t want to go back to waiting with everyone else—so you’d better make sure you don’t let your membership expire. Here’s what you need to do for Global Entry renewal.

When to Start Your Global Entry Renewal


  • You can renew your Global Entry membership beginning one year before yours expires.
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends that members renew Global Entry early to prevent a lapse in membership.
  • If you renew early, the additional five years will be added on to your expiration date, so you aren’t losing any time by completing your Global Entry renewal before the deadline.

[st_related]Global Entry: 10 Things You Need to Know[/st_related]

How to Renew Global Entry

  • Log in to your Global Entry account on the CBP’s Trusted Traveler Page and fill out the “renew application” form.
  • Pay $100, which covers your membership for the next five years.
  • In some cases, you may be required to complete an in-person interview, so you’ll need to schedule an appointment at a Global Entry office in order to finalize your renewal.
  • If you aren’t flagged for an interview, you will be mailed your new Global Entry card to the address you have on file.
  • Once your Global Entry renewal is conditionally approved, you’ll receive an email indicating a status change to let you know that you’ve been either approved or conditionally approved with a requirement to schedule an interview. (This information is also posted to your Trusted Traveler account.)

[st_related]How to Get Global Entry for Free[/st_related]

Important Tips for Global Entry Renewal

  • If you also need to renew or get a new passport or driver’s license, you must also update that information on your Trusted Traveler account.
  • Changing your name? You won’t be able to update that online, so once you’ve received your new passport and driver’s license showing the change, you’ll have to go to an enrollment center to add the new documents to your account. Appointments are not accepted for this service, so you’ll need to do a walk-in.
  • If an interview is required for your renewal, and you are booked on an international flight, CBP may offer you the option of doing your interview upon arriving home.

Personal Experience with Renewing Global Entry

I submitted my Global Entry renewal about one year before my membership was due to expire. I was not notified that I had been approved, but approximately three months later, I received my new Global Entry card in the mail, along with a letter of approval.

Traveling? Aim for a Carry-On That Does MORE

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Caroline Morse Teel posts plenty of travel tips, including on Global Entry renewal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for advice and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Airport Travel Technology

10 Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport

From the baggage drop to the security line to the boarding gate, just getting through the airport these days can throw pitfalls at you that you never saw coming. Even if you sail through the lines, there are other things you can do to make the wisest use of your time, and money, at the airport. Here are 10 typical airport mistakes you may be making, as well as my expert tips on making it out of the airport, and onto your plane, with as little hassle as possible.

Not Downloading Your Airline/Airport App

Using your carrier’s app is important not just at the airport, but before you get there, too. Most carriers have apps you can download on your smartphone that will alert you if your flight is delayed or canceled, even before you leave for the airport. Once there, the information on the app is often more up-to-date than the arrival-departure screens in the terminal. More and more airports have developed apps that help travelers navigate the terminals with maps, lists of services, etc.

[st_related]The 5 Best Trip Planner Apps for Travelers [/st_related]

Not Checking in Online

I was flabbergasted recently at the line snaking up to the ticket counter—just to check in. (And there were even check-in kiosks!) Unless you have some kind of problem that can’t be resolved ahead of time, there’s no good reason for not checking in online.

Just have the ticket sent to your phone (via text or email link), and if you don’t have any luggage to check, you can skip the counter and head straight to the security line. (If you have luggage you’ll need to drop it off, but if you’ve checked in beforehand, this goes quickly.) Also, some airlines only let you choose a seat when you check in; if you’re flying one of these, you’ll want to check in and choose your seat as soon as possible within the check-in time (usually 24 hours).

Not Having TSA Precheck

If you fly more than just a few times a year, you’ll want to apply for TSA Precheck. It’s very rare that the precheck lines are anywhere as long as the regular lines. And because you don’t remove your shoes, laptop, and liquids, the lines move much quicker and you’re not likely to leave something behind in the bin as you scramble to get things back into your carryon.

You’ll need to fill out the application and pay a $85 nonrefundable fee, then schedule an appointment at one of the enrollment centers. That may sound like a lot of work (not to mention the money), but it’s good for five years and worth its price in saved time and aggravation.

[st_related]How to Get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for Free [/st_related]

Not Bringing Food with You

It’s no secret that airport food, whether from a grab-and-go vendor or a sit-down restaurant, comes with a hefty price tag—and the only value-add is convenience, usually not quality. And that’s not the only reason to pack a snack in your carry-on luggage: If you get held up in the TSA line and get squeezed for time, a sandwich, chips, cookies, and fruit in your carry-on can save the day.

Most food is allowed, except for liquids like salad dressings, soups, yogurt, etc. If in doubt, check the TSA’s website for prohibited food items.

Wearing the Wrong Clothing

I don’t just dress for comfort on the plane, I strategically dress to get through the line faster, too. Even if you have TSA Precheck, there will be times when those lines are closed and you end up in the regular lines, unpacking your laptop, taking off your shoes and belt, and digging out the liquids.

It pays to play it safe if at all possible. That means eliminating anything that could set off alarms when going through the body scanner, like chunky jewelry or a belt. Keep your footwear simple, too, with shoes that are quick and easy to get on and off (and don’t forget socks).

Best Airport Shoes for Women:

[st_product products=”294830,294850,294838″]

Best Airport Shoes for Men:

[st_product products=”294806,294818,294814″]

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Not Taking Advantage of Courtesy Checked Bag at the Gate

If you’re a travel warrior who never checks a bag, this isn’t for you. But if you have to check a bag (i.e., you’ll need to go to baggage claim anyway), you can often check your carry-on at the gate for no extra charge. I’ve run across this numerous times, especially on domestic flights that are full and when overhead space is at a premium.

Usually the gate agent will make an announcement asking for volunteers to check their carry-ons, but I’ve asked and been given the OK. I just make sure the things I need on the plane can fit in a bag under my seat, and I have one less bag to carry around—particularly helpful if you have a connecting flight and don’t want to lug your extra bag around the airport.

Not Playing Nice

It’s not a matter of if, only when: You’re going to need someone’s help. It could be a problem of your own making, or the airline’s, or a force majeure, but it almost never pays to be angry, indignant, or whiny. Patience and a smile goes a long way when it comes to interacting with the gate attendants, flight attendants, TSA agents, and even your fellow travelers.

I’ve seen overweight bags given a pass (no punitive fee), seats changed, and special favors accommodated simply because someone asked nicely. And even if you don’t end up getting what you want (or need), you know you went about it the best way possible.

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Not Buying a Pass to the Airport Lounge

If you’re not an elite flyer, or aren’t enrolled in a credit card that offers this perk, the world of airport lounges can seem like a pricey, exotic indulgence. But there are occasions—most notably if you have a long international layover—that it’s worth buying a day pass to your carrier’s airport lounge.

Not long ago, I had a seven-hour layover in San Salvador, and I happily coughed up the $25 fee just to have a quiet place to rest. It also included Wi-Fi, surprisingly good food, and a generous array of beverages, including liquor. Most U.S. airlines charge $50 to $60 for a day pass, which is a good chunk of change. But not paying for food and drinks at an airport restaurant helps offset a good part of that cost.

Sending Personal Information Over the Airport Wi-Fi

Thankfully, more airports are acknowledging that free Wi-Fi isn’t just a convenience for travelers, it’s a necessity. And that’s a good thing! But never forget that “free” doesn’t mean “safe”: Public Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure, so whatever you do, don’t type in personal information—passwords, IDs, etc.—or you could return from your trip only to find your Facebook has been hacked and your bank account drained.

[st_related]Which Airports Have the Fastest Wi-Fi?[/st_related]

Not Marking Your Luggage

You’ve been there, done that, and now you’re almost home. All that’s left is to grab your luggage from baggage claim. And one by one here they come, an endless stream of suitcases that look more or less the same. Save yourself the hassle of looking at each bag as is it goes by marking yours with a brightly colored tag. Not only will it have your contact info should your luggage go missing, but if all goes as planned you’ll be able to spot yours in a quick second and be on your way.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Airport Booking Strategy Passenger Rights Security Travel Technology Travel Trends

A Guide to TSA PreCheck Renewal

Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Are you one of the thousands of air travelers who joined Precheck or Global Entry when it was new five years ago? The initial five-year enrollment is about to expire for a lot of people. But the good news is that TSA PreCheck renewal is generally a lot easier than getting in the first time around—it’s mostly all done online.

Here’s how the process works.

When to Start TSA PreCheck Renewal

TSA PreCheck members can renew their status starting six months before their membership expires. And there’s no reason not to do so—your new expiration date will still be five years from the originally assigned expiration. In other words, there’s no loss of value for renewing early.

[st_related]10 Things You Need to Know About TSA PreCheck[/st_related]

If you have Global Entry and are considering letting it expire to instead enroll in just TSA PreCheck, the Department of Homeland Security says the process for TSA PreCheck renewal is “likely faster” than Global Entry.

How to Renew TSA PreCheck

If you initially enrolled in just TSA Precheck (not Global Entry), start by logging on to the TSA PreCheck renewal homepage with your Known Traveler Number. You can find out how to look it up here if you forgot it. Your Known Traveler Number will remain the same with your renewed membership.

TSA precheck homepage
TSA Universal Enroll Renewal Page

Once into the system, just follow the series of prompts to enter the personal information required to renew, and pay the $85 required for TSA PreCheck renewal. You will not need to provide a new photo. In most cases, that’s all it takes. In due time you’ll get a confirmation of renewal; the approval process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But TSA does note that “some members may be directed to renew in person at an enrollment center.”

“New potential disqualifying factors that arise after someone’s initial enrollment have no bearing on whether that person is called in to renew in person,” a TSA spokesperson told SmarterTravel. “Some individuals may need to renew in person, for example, if the fingerprints provided during their initial enrollment were deemed low quality at the time of enrollment, or if they have changed their name and have not gone through TSA’s data update process.”

Renewals can be paid for by credit card or electronic debit. Several premium credit cards with annual fees can absorb the renewal charge—so make sure you pay with one if you have it to get reimbursed.

What About Global Entry?

If you have TSA PreCheck because you initially enrolled in Global Entry, and don’t wish to renew Global Entry but do want TSA PreCheck, you’ll need to start at your Trusted Traveler Program dashboard here instead and click on the “Manage my membership” button. From there, you need to enter your email address and password—which you can also look up if you don’t have it. See our guide to Global Entry Renewal for more.

Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon contributed reporting to this story.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Fashion & Beauty Packing Women's Travel

10 Tiny Hair Products You Need to Pack

Have you noticed the trend of hotels—even upscale chains—not offering free conditioner anymore? After a recent mishap—asking reception for conditioner only to have an air-conditioning repair person sent up instead—I decided never to rely on free supplies again. Instead, I went out and found the best travel hair products. If you’re interested in putting together the ideal hair travel kit, read on.

Travel Hair Products You Need to Pack

From sulfate-free shampoos to pint-sized straighteners, here are some perfectly compact travel hair products, hair care tools, and kits to ensure that every vacation day will also be a good hair day.

6th Sense’s Two-in-One Mini Flat Iron/Curling Iron

hair products

It’s good to have options while you’re on vacation. Whether you want curly or straight hair, you just need one travel hair tool: this combo straightener/curling iron by 6th Sense. It’s dual-voltage and travel-sized, so you can take it anywhere. Simply flip a switch to convert it from curler to flat iron; it even comes with an insulated carrying bag so you can pack it safely while it’s still hot.

Conair’s Travel Smart Folding Hair Dryer

hair products

There’s room in even the smallest carry-on for Conair’s Travel Smart hair dryer, whose folding handle makes it super compact. It’s dual-voltage, so you can use it pretty much anywhere, and the 1200-watt power dries your hair quickly.

DevaCurl’s How to Quit Shampoo Kit

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Caroline Morse always packs her own shampoo. Follow her adventures around the world on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Airport Booking Strategy

Airports Close Terminals as TSA Workers Stay Home During Government Shutdown

Update: On January 13, Houston’s George Bush International airport closed a terminal due to a worker shortage. The move followed Miami International Airport’s closure of a terminal amid TSA officer call outs. Our original story including tips on how to avoid airport delays during the shutdown continues below.

As the government shut down drags on into January, travelers are rightly concerned about impacts at the airport if federal workers continue to be furloughed. TSA staff continued to work during the first few weeks of the government shutdown, mitigating any potential impact at our nation’s airports. But with no end to the shutdown in sight, and no pay for TSA workers (and other government employees), it’s fair to wonder when your airport could suffer noticeable delays.

TSA Calling in Sick

The first sign of trouble came from reports of TSA employees calling in sick during the third week of the government shutdown. Hundreds of TSA workers at four major airports called out last week, according to CNN. This includes 170 employees each day at New York’s JFK, and an increase in call-outs of 200  to 300 percent at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

These call-outs require other TSA employees to extend their shifts to fill in the gaps, again without pay. So far, it does not seem like the call-outs have overwhelmed the TSA’s capacity, as wait times remain within the agencies standards. But extending shifts is obviously not ideal in a job where attention to detail is essential.

[st_related]10 Things You Need to Know About TSA PreCheck[/st_related]

If call-outs increase, however, travelers may soon encounter prolonged waits at understaffed airports. A TSA union official told CNN that more call-outs are likely as the shutdown continues. “This problem of call outs is really going to explode over the next week or two when employees miss their first paycheck,” the official said. “TSA officers are telling the union they will find another way to make money. That means calling out to work other jobs.”

The official added that while some call-outs are a protest of the paycheck situation, many simply can’t afford to work for free. Some parents, for example, can’t afford child care with no pay coming in.

What You Can Do

The trickiest part of this situation for travelers is that it’s evolving and unpredictable. No one knows how long the shutdown will last, and there’s no way to predict where, when, and how severely TSA operations might be affected.

That said, there are a few simple things you can do to minimize disruptions to your travels:

  • Leave extra time: Build some breathing room into your schedule. Arriving at the airport at least 30 minutes earlier than you otherwise would will give you some peace of mind in the event of slower-than-normal security lines.
  • Pay attention to the news: The shutdown and its impact on TSA operations is big news, and media outlets will continue covering it thoroughly. If disruptions increase, you’ll be able to know ahead of time. You can also check individual airports’ websites and social media pages for any updates.
  • Keep your eyes open: In addition to slower security lines, there is concern that a prolonged shutdown could diminish the thoroughness of security checks. Overworked, unpaid screeners may pressure themselves to rush through screenings just to keep the line moving.
  • Be patient, be kind: Remember, the women and men of the TSA are working unpaid, with no clear sense of when their paychecks will resume. How would you feel if you boss demanded you show up to work for weeks on end with no pay? Whatever your thoughts or feelings are about the TSA philosophically, show screeners a little kindness next time you pass through a checkpoint.

Readers, have you flown during the shutdown? What was your experience?

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Airport Booking Strategy Travel Technology Travel Trends

The First Facial-Screening Biometric Terminal Just Opened at This U.S. Airport

Get ready for your close up. Delta Air Lines and the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport have opened the nation’s first optional biometric screening checkpoints, which use facial recognition scanning to expedite the airport process from check-in to boarding.

The technology is being used at the airport’s international terminal: Terminal F. In an announcement, Delta said Atlanta “customers flying direct to an international destination on Delta, Aeromexico, Air France, KLM or Virgin Atlantic Airways can use facial recognition technology from curb to gate, including to:

  • Check in at the self-service kiosks in the International lobby
  • Drop checked baggage at the counters in the International lobby
  • Serve as identification at the TSA checkpoint
  • Board a flight at any gate in Terminal F
  • And, go through CBP processing for international travelers arriving into the U.S.”

According to Delta, replacing traditional processes with biometric alternatives will not only speed things up, it improves security. “Nearly all 25,000 customers who travel through ATL Terminal F each week are choosing this optional process, with less than 2 percent opting out,”the airline said in a statement. “And, based on initial data, the facial recognition option is saving an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.”

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According to USA Today, Delta customers can enter their passport information during online check-in or scan their passport when checking in at the airport. Travelers can then opt for a facial scan at Delta’s automated kiosks. These scans will be matched to passport or visa photos on file with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The same option is available at check-in kiosks, TSA checkpoints, and gates.

“We’re removing the need for a customer checking a bag to present their passport up to four times per departure,” Gil West, Delta’s COO, said in the statement. “[This] means we’re giving customers the option of moving through the airport with one less thing to worry about, while empowering our employees with more time for meaningful interactions with customers.”

The Future of Flying, Long in the Making

Biometric screening is not a new concept, but Delta is the first airline to put it into regular use. JetBlue tested the technology last year, and other airlines have experimented with pilot programs as well. For its part, Delta rolled out the features slowly over the course of the fall, presumably so travelers could get used to the idea.

Looking ahead, the airline also plans to bring biometric check-in to its hub in Detroit, where the airline began testing facial recognition technology this past summer. Delta plans to roll out roll out facial recognition technology from curb to gate in 2019.

Readers, have you flown through Atlanta’s Terminal F lately? Have you encountered facial recognition experiments elsewhere? Share your experience below.


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What to Do When Your Checked Bag Is Lost

You’ve probably been there: waiting at the baggage claim carousel, while other folks from your flight grab their bags, the claim area empties, the conveyor stops, and still no bag.

The Airline Lost Your Checked Bag, Now What?

[st_content_ad]As long as airlines have been checking baggage, they’ve been sending a few somewhere other than where they were supposed to go. Airlines are doing better recently than they did 20 years ago, however, so your chances for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending have improved:

  • They’re losing fewer bags, or in airline-ese, “mishandled” bags. The government has been collecting statistics on mishandled bag reports for decades, and the number of mishandled bag reports per 100,000 passengers has dropped, somewhat unevenly, from 5 to 7 in the early 1990s to 3 to 4 since 2009.
  • They’re getting better at tracking the bags they do lose. With barcoded tags and now, a few RFID-enabled tags, their systems keep excellent track of bags. The last two times I’ve had a bag problem, an agent at the lost-baggage desk was able to tell me, immediately, where my bag was and the flight on which it would arrive.

Although airline performance has improved, what you do when an airline loses a bag remains about as it was in the 1990s.

[st_related]Will Suspending Bag Fees Lead to Shorter Security Lines?[/st_related]

Delayed Bags

Most so-called “lost” baggage really isn’t lost, rather, it’s delayed. And in most cases an airline can reunite you with your baggage within 24 hours or less.

When you realize that your bag isn’t going to show up on the carousel, go immediately to your airline’s lost-baggage counter or equivalent that you find in most big-airport baggage areas. In smaller airports, ask any airline employee where to go. Even if you have someplace you need to be, report missing baggage before you leave the airport. Some airline contracts specify that you must file no later than four hours after arrival; others say 24 hours. If your baggage is delayed on a connecting itinerary involving more than one airline, you deal with the airline that flew you to your destination, even if you think the first airline was responsible.

Hand over your baggage check (but write down the numbers) and fill out the form, making sure to get a copy, with the relevant tracking numbers, airline phone number or baggage-tracking website, and such. Note the name of the agent that handles your claim, and note the estimated time your bag will arrive.


Ask exactly how, when, and where the airline plans to deliver your bag. Normally, an airline delivers your bag to a local hotel or residence address the same day the bag arrives at your airport. If you need a different delivery location, ask for it. Airlines usually deliver delayed bags at no cost to you, but some may ask you to pay. And if you’re staying at a hotel or resort, alert the front desk about an incoming bag.

Ask what the airline provides in the way of assistance. No law requires any specific assistance; only that airlines must have a policy and make it available to you. At a minimum, airlines typically cover overnight needs such as toothpaste and such; some lines stock and hand out regular overnight kits at the lost-baggage desk. If your bag is lost on a flight arriving at an airport other than your home, many airlines offer to cover all or part of the cost of items you may need to continue your vacation or business trip. Some airlines offer a set daily allowance; others offer to reimburse you for items you buy on the basis of receipts. And some airlines say almost nothing beyond “We’ll get you bag back.” Very little is set; instead, you’re likely involved in a negotiation.

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Lost Checked Bag

If most lines don’t get your bag back to you within five days, the bag falls into a category of “maybe really lost.” You have to submit more information, but you can also enter more claims. An airline defines “really lost” at anywhere from five to 30 days, at which point both you and the airline proceed on the assumption that you’ll never see your bag again.

Damaged Bags

Generally, airlines will not take responsibility for minor damage to your luggage, such as bumps, scratches, dents, and scuffs, nor will they cover damage to straps, pulls, locks, or wheels that are the result of normal wear and tear. Airlines will generally cover broken fragile items packed in your luggage only if they are packed in a container designed for shipping. And they exclude damage or loss claims for a long list of extra-fragile items or high-value items such as jewelry, computers, and cameras that are both fragile and tempting targets for theft.

Airlines won’t take responsibility for damage that occurred during a TSA inspection. In the event that you think your baggage was damaged during a TSA inspection (All inspected bags will have a written notification inside.), call 866-289-9673. And when that happens, expect a protracted “he said, she said” tussle between the TSA and the airline.

[st_related]The Best Carry-On Bags for Every U.S. Airline[/st_related]


Only one big airline, Alaska, provides any monetary compensation for delayed baggage: If the line doesn’t deliver your checked baggage within 20 minutes of arrival at the gate, it issues a voucher for $25 toward a future flight or 2,500 frequent-flyer miles. But this rule applies to all baggage, not just delayed baggage.

Other airlines do not issue any compensation for delayed baggage, even when you pay a checked-bag fee. Congress recently urged the DOT to rule that airlines must refund baggage fees if baggage isn’t delivered within 24 hours. In my view, that’s inadequate. The “hassle factor” begins as soon as your flight arrives without your baggage, and the refund should apply immediately. But even the weak proposal is iffy.

Whether delayed or really lost, baggage has a current maximum loss/damage claim of $3,500 on a completely domestic flight. The cap on international flights, including domestic segments, is set at 1,131 Special Drawing Rights, currently worth about $1,600.

Any claim process is obviously a negotiation. Airlines say they cover only depreciated value of whatever you say you lost. They ask for receipts, even for a suit you bought 10 years ago. You may go back and forth several times before reaching a deal. The airline may also offer you a voucher for future travel in lieu of cash, which is generally a good deal only if the voucher value is double to triple a satisfactory cash value and even then only if the voucher conditions actually allow you to travel.

[st_related]Lost Luggage? Here’s What to Do[/st_related]


Don’t put the obvious valuable stuff or “can’t be without it” items in your checked baggage (medicine, important papers, jewelry, laptops). Carry it with you. Make a list of packed items and their estimated value before you leave. Keep receipts for expensive items you pack, as you may be required to send copies of them to the airline in the case of a lost bag. If you absolutely have to check some of those items, insure them separately: An airline won’t cover them even if you buy excess-value coverage. And remove old claim tags to prevent confusion about your destination.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Airport Booking Strategy Security

10 Things You Need to Know About Global Entry

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Global Entry, along with TSA PreCheck, is one of the primary ways American travelers can streamline their airport experience. Both programs are designed with frequent travelers in mind—let’s say those who fly at least two to three times per year—and each is tailored for a different kind of travel. PreCheck is for domestic travel, while Global Entry for international flights.

Here are some key elements of the service to help determine if it’s right for you.

[st_related]2 Easy Ways to Get a Faster Global Entry Interview[/st_related]

What does Global Entry get you?

A lot! The central benefit is expedited re-entry to the United States via kiosks at passport control—no paperwork or processing lines.

In addition, you get all the benefits of TSA PreCheck: expedited passage through airport security at hundreds of U.S. airports and through dozens of airlines. Having TSA PreCheck means you can pass through an airport security lane without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket.

How do you enroll?

Global entry is available to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents, as well as citizens of several other countries.

To enroll, you must first register with the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP). Once enrolled, you must complete an application and pay a $100 fee. If U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which administers the program, approves your application, your TTP account will instruct you to set up an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. You must bring your passport and one other form of ID to this interview, and long wait times mean you could have months to prepare for it.

Can family members use it if they are not enrolled themselves?

No, every member of your family or traveling party must be enrolled to use the service. This includes children.

Do you always have to use Global Entry if enrolled?

No. In the event you are traveling with non-members, for example, you can use the regular passport control process rather than the designated Global Entry kiosks.

[st_related]What Is the CLEAR Program, and Is It Right for You?[/st_related]

Does it guarantee expedited passage through security?

Mostly. Occasionally there may be reasons that the designated kiosks aren’t working or are available, but in those cases members are typically granted “head of the line” privileges.

Do I still need to declare food items or agricultural products?

Yes. Global Entry does not exclude you from standard declaration requirements. If you declare something, your kiosk receipt will have an “O” on it and you will still need to meet with an officer to discuss the declaration.

How often must you renew?

Membership is valid for five years, after which you’ll need to reapply. You can begin the renewal process one year prior to the expiration of your membership.

Do all airports participate?

No. As of October 2018, Global Entry is available at most major U.S. and Canadian airports, and at several airports overseas.

Does my loyalty program or credit card cover the program cost?

It may! Several travel credit cards (usually those with a fee) will reimburse or otherwise cover the $100 application fee.

Is Global Entry for me?

If you fly regularly and your travel plans typically include at least one international flight per year, yes. Remember, Global Entry includes all the benefits of TSA PreCheck, which alone costs $85. For an extra $15 you’ll get expedited security screening and streamlined re-entry following your journeys abroad. It’ll save you a lot of time.


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TSA PreCheck Lanes Could Soon (Finally) Be for PreCheck Members Only

For $85 and a little bit of legwork, TSA PreCheck lets you skip the airport security line on domestic flights. It’s a nice service for frequent travelers wanting to save time, and a privilege, you’d think, worth paying for.

There’s just one problem: TSA sometimes lets regular travelers who haven’t purchased TSA PreCheck use the PreCheck lane. Understandably, that doesn’t go over well with valid PreCheck passengers, especially when said unenrolled travelers don’t understand they don’t need to remove their shoes or take anything out of their bags, and therefore hold up the line. But Congress might be about to put a stop to the practice.

[st_related] Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck: Which Is Better? [/st_related]

Non-PreCheck travelers haven’t paid the $85, and haven’t provided fingerprints or visited a PreCheck enrollment center. As Forbes points out, the program, called Managed Inclusion, “officially allowed low-risk passengers access to the lane. As a result, expedited screening lanes were often congested with passengers unfamiliar with procedure, slowing down the overall flow of the checkpoint.”

Managed Inclusion was supposed to end in 2015, but some outside passengers are still given access to expedited screening.

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Can Congress Fix PreCheck?

Congress may now be poised to step in via the awkwardly named PreCheck Is PreCheck Act, which “directs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure that only travelers who are members of a trusted traveler program are permitted to use TSA PreCheck security screening lanes at TSA checkpoints.” The legislation does make exceptions for travelers under 12 or over 75 who are traveling with a PreCheck member, allowing them to use PreCheck lanes regardless of status. The House passed the law, and it now awaits consideration in the Senate.

Interestingly, the act also states that “the TSA shall implement a risk modified screening protocol for lanes other than designated TSA PreCheck security screening lanes at TSA checkpoints to further segment passengers based on risk. Only low-risk passengers shall be eligible to undergo risk modified screening at TSA checkpoints.”

This seems to direct or allow TSA to develop an alternate approach to divert “low-risk” travelers from the main security line that’s not through PreCheck. That alone would be a benefit to ordinary travelers, so hopefully it comes to pass.

Readers, are you enrolled in PreCheck or its international counterpart, Global Entry?

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How to Get Paid to Speed Through Airport Security

Do you want to get paid to speed through airport security? CLEAR is now offering travelers a free three-month trial, $20 in Lyft airport ride credit, and a $50 LoungeBuddy credit to test its security-expediting services.

[st_content_ad]CLEAR members get to bypass the TSA’s ID check line and head straight for security screening. Instead of having an officer check your identification, CLEAR will verify your identity by scanning your finger or eye at one of its machines. Then, if you’re a TSA PreCheck member, you’ll head for the PreCheck security screening, and other travelers go to the regular security screening.

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At $179 a year, CLEAR is far more expensive than TSA PreCheck’s membership fee of $85 every five years. CLEAR is currently available at over 35 airports and sports stadiums nationwide, compared to PreCheck’s availability at over 200 American airports. But because CLEAR hasn’t yet reached the same popularity as PreCheck, it might have shorter wait times.

Even better, children under 18 can use CLEAR for free if they’re accompanied by a family member who uses the service. Meanwhile, TSA PreCheck only permits kids ages 12 and younger to go with a family member through its screening.

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CLEAR is an exciting new option for travelers looking to get through security faster. Since CLEAR is paying travelers to try their expensive security-expediting service for free, you get to decide if it’s worth it.

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Alyssa Lukpat loves exploring new places. Follow her on Twitter.


Airport Security

Flying Out of One of These Airports? Leave Your Liquids in Your Carry-on

You might be able to skip two steps in the trudge through airport security soon, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced a plan to test new scanners that could allow flyers to keep their liquids and laptops in their carry-on bags.

The new machines will be computed tomography (CT) scanners that will create a 3-D image to allow TSA officers a better view of carry-on contents.

Use of the new technology will hopefully speed up security lines by cutting down on bag checks. “TSA is committed in getting the best technology to enhance security and improve the screening experience. Use of CT technology substantially improves TSA’s threat detection capability at the checkpoint,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

The CT machines will be tested at 15 airports to start:

  • Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Houston Hobby Airport (HOU)
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • McCarran International Airport (LAS)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)

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TSA Considers Excluding Smaller Airports from Security Screenings

CNN reports that the TSA is contemplating eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the US, according to internal documents from a TSA working group. The agency currently screens passengers at 440 airports.

According to the report, “passengers and luggage arriving from these smaller airports would be screened when they arrive at major airports for connecting flights instead of the current practice of joining the already screened population at the larger airport. The high-volume airports have greater capacities and more advanced security measures than smaller locations, the documents say.”

[st_related] Not Just Liquids: TSA Adds New Rule for Carry-ons That Will Change How You Pack [/st_related]

The documents say the move could save $115 million, which the agency could use to increase security measures at larger airports. They also acknowledge there would be a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” In other words, yes, this change could lead to a dangerous situation.

What Is TSA Thinking?

Let’s pause here for a second: The TSA wants to do what??? 

This is the same agency that has forced us to remove our shoes before flying for over a decade. That limits the quantity of jams and jellies people can bring in their carry-ons. The same agency that (maybe illegally) tracks unsuspecting, non-threatening U.S. citizens. And now it’s considering … less security? More specifically, getting rid of it completely, at one third of its airports? In order to get to those larger airports, would passengers then be boarding a plane totally unscreened?

In a statement, the agency deflected from the report without denying it outright:

There has been no decision to eliminate passenger screening at any federalized U.S. airport. TSA remains committed to its core mission to secure the Homeland by screening more than 2.5 million airline passengers per day. Every year as part of the federal budget process TSA is asked to discuss potential operational efficiencies—this year is no different. Any potential operational changes to better allocate limited taxpayer resources are simply part of predecisional discussions and deliberations and would not take place without a risk assessment to ensure the security of the aviation system.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello expanded on this, telling CNN: “This is not a new issue. The regulations which established TSA does not require screening below a certain level, so every year is ‘the year’ that TSA will reconsider screening.”

But according to CNN, “two TSA senior officials said the level of activity around the proposal this year—the formation of a working group to conduct a risk and cost analysis—mean this is more than an annual exercise.”

Will This Happen?

So yes, it does seem that the TSA is actually considering this. But while we don’t know how serious the idea is within the agency, it seems unthinkable—at least to most reasonable people—that the TSA would actually stop screenings altogether at certain airports. As CNN notes: “The concept of rolling back security at regional airports recalls the coordinated attacks that brought the TSA into existence.”

The proposal suggests that terrorists would be less likely to use smaller aircraft in some kind of attack. But it seems obvious that someone could use a small airplane to inflict damage, or exploit the complete lack of security to bring weapons onboard.

In short, this idea defies logic, and hopefully will never see the light of day. Airport security is an all or nothing game, and the TSA is better off focusing on technology that maintains the current baseline of safety while decreasing the inconvenience imposed on travelers.

Readers, do you think it’s a good idea to eliminate screening at small airports?


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TSA Secretly Tracks Ordinary Passengers at These Airports

According to a stunning report by the Boston Globe, the TSA has been operating a secret airport surveillance program called Quiet Skies that tracks passengers who are not otherwise suspected to be a threat. “Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list,” the Globe reports, and is “collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency.”

Quiet Skies “specifically targets travelers who ‘are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,’ according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin in March.” The internal TSA bulletin says the purpose of the program is to undercut threats “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists.”

Airports being surveilled in the program, according to the Globe, include those in Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, Harrisburg (PA), and Myrtle Beach.

Thousand of Americans Have Been Tracked

According to documents reviewed by the Globe, “thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals [who] document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a ‘jump’ in their Adam’s apple or a ‘cold, penetrating stare,’ among other behaviors.”

[st_related]The TSA Has Been Spying on You (And Worse)[/st_related]

A separate internal TSA bulletin from May, which notes that travelers entering the United States may be added to the Quiet Skies watch list if their “international travel patters [sic] or behaviors match the travel routing and tradecraft of known or suspected terrorists,” or “are possibly affiliated with Watch Listed suspects.”

What the Globe describes is a surveillance program that essentially targets anyone, for reasons that are not entirely clear. The Globe cites some examples—a businesswoman “who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot,” a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and a law enforcement officer—none of whom were determined to pose a threat.

Instant Controversy

Unsurprisingly, the program has critics within the TSA itself, and now outside of it as well.

John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, said in a statement that “the Air Marshal Association believes that missions based on recognized intelligence, or in support of ongoing federal investigations, is the proper criteria for flight scheduling. Currently the Quiet Skies program does not meet the criteria we find acceptable.”

Further, the Globe reports that “several air marshals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, told the Globe the program wastes taxpayer dollars and makes the country less safe because attention and resources are diverted away from legitimate, potential threats.”

It’s also unclear if the program is even legal. “If this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told the Globe. “But if it’s U.S. citizens — U.S. citizens don’t lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet. There may be indeed constitutional issues here depending on how restrictive or intrusive these measures are.”

What Now?

Needless to say, there is much the public needs to learn about this program. On the surface it seems deeply troubling—essentially a covert surveillance operation that targets U.S. citizens without cause. In a statement to CNN, the TSA disputed this characterization by saying: “The program absolutely isn’t intended to surveil ordinary Americans. Instead, its purpose is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel … The program analyzes information on a passenger’s travel patterns while taking the whole picture into account and adds an additional line of defense to aviation security.”

But if identifying, targeting, following, and documenting the behaviors of ordinary, unsuspecting Americans isn’t surveillance, then what is it? You can bet that the ACLU, and perhaps Congress, will be asking the TSA that same question.


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