Trust Is A Funny Thing

Here’s a few updates on the CBP Trusted Traveler & TSA Pre Check program I discussed in an earlier post. It’s the classic “good news, bad news” situation you find with an government program. I’ll even throw in a bonus video at the end.

First the good news … The very convenient TSA Pre Check program is getting expanded in 2012. The “short line” security program will be added to more US airports by the end of the year. Check the TSA website for a complete list.

Now the bad news … apparently you don’t get to use TSA Pre Check every time you fly, even if your airport is enrolled in the program. I found this out boarding a recent flight from Atlanta to Detroit as part of a convoluted travel plan taking me to Taiwan. One of the TSA employees explained that they had to “mix things up” so security didn’t have a standard pattern, even for travelers who volunteered extra information and paid to be in the program.

This, as you may expect, irritated me quite a lot. This is where, as a writer on the Internet, I present the list of reasons why …

1. “That word you use, I don’t think it means what you think it means.” I’m a big believer in trust. I use it a lot in my life and a have a good understanding of how it’s supposed to work. The program as implemented seems to lack that element of trust.

2. I Paid $100 For This? Seriously. This is a bit of an issue for me. I’m all for paying taxes and fees for the government to provide services, but
I kind of expect there to be a service after the fee. The non-refundable fee. As a frequent flyer, I’ve already paid enough in government service fees to have my name on a plaque attached to an X-ray machine. Paying extra for Trusted Traveler is exchanging money for an additional service, not a lottery ticket.

3. Shorter Security Is Still Security. Only one TSA agent presented me with a reasonable explanation as to why TSA Pre Check was “random” … changing patterns in security “keeps the bad guys guessing.” That’s a great explanation as long as you don’t think about it for more than a few seconds (and I had a lot of time in line to process his comments). TSA Pre Check simplifies security, but it doesn’t bypass security. I am still going through a metal detector, my bags are still screened and unlike the “normal” passengers (good and bad) I’ve agreed to an additional set of background checks (part of that form I attached to my $100 payment). I’ve also been through more “random gate screenings” in my travel history than the average airline passenger. Would some of my DNA help?

4. They’re Not Very Clear on the Random Part? Yeah, about that “trust” thing. Trust involves disclosure. So when I disclose my personal history and credit card number to a government website, I expect some disclosure in return. Here’s an example: when being interviewed in person by a uniformed CBP officer, I expect they inform me that I can be denied use of the TSA Pre-Check lane based on undisclosed parameters. The FAQ has this information, but not the actual conversation with CBP. So RTFM and YMMV.

Yes, security is hard. I know there are people at the TSA who take this seriously and really want to keep passengers safe. However, when your agency offers a program to trade some liberty and hard earned cash to simplify the screening process, remember to treat them like customers … otherwise this program is dead on arrival. A program like Trusted Traveler can make things easier for the TSA and airline passengers, but only if implemented properly.

Now for that bonus video … I recently recorded some travel segments for Rich Gedney’s video series at RichVoyages.com. The first video is already posted. Subscribe to his YouTube channel to be notified when the others are released.

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