Nightly News   |  October 04, 2011

TSA tests ‘trusted traveler’ program

The Transportation Security Administration launched a pilot program called "TSA PreCheck" for expedited security screening in Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now to the safety of air travel in this country. And after all the backlash over the TSA 's full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs, the agency announced today it's testing a more focused approach to security, just for some passengers at first, giving the most frequent fliers a way to fast-track through TSA checkpoints in airports. What does that mean for the rest of the flying public, however? Our report from NBC 's Tom Costello .

Unidentified Man #1: How's it going, my man? Remember, you don't have to take your laptops out anymore.

TOM COSTELLO reporting: At a TSA checkpoint in Atlanta today, a sudden change.

Unidentified Man #2: No shoes?

Man #1: No shoes.

COSTELLO: New security requirements for the most frequent fliers. Shoes, belts and jackets can stay on, laptops can stay zipped up, and a dedicated express screening lane. Mr. CHRISTOPHER McLAUGHLIN ( TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Operations ): We'll scan your boarding pass and if you're eligible on that day, you will be allowed expedited screening processes.

COSTELLO: The TSA calls it PreCheck , a trial run for domestic travelers in just four cities, only offered to elite frequent fliers on Delta Air Lines at its hubs in Atlanta and Detroit , elite American Airlines passengers in Dallas and Miami , and anyone already in the government's Trusted Traveler programs. In Atlanta , we timed frequent fliers moving through the expedited lane in just 15 seconds, compared to a minute 40 in the regular lane.

Unidentified Woman: It was fantastic.

COSTELLO: Really?

Woman: Oh, my God, it was so easy.

COSTELLO: Those passengers who participate provide the TSA with full name and date of birth, agree to a full security background check, including their flight history and airline elite status.

Mr. JOHN PISTOLE (TSA Administrator): And if you've been traveling for 25 years and we -- and you're willing to share that information with us, then we can make a judgment about you to say, 'Yes, it's possible you're a terrorist, but probably not.'

COSTELLO: If this program works, it could be rolled out to other cities and other airlines in the coming months. You know, the goal here is to try to get away from this one size fits all approach to security and recognize that the TSA and the airlines see some passengers regularly and maybe they should be focusing on those passengers that they don't see all that often. But, Brian , they do insist the elite travelers will still get random inspections and random pat-downs. Back to you.

WILLIAMS: Well, let's hope we all qualify for the 'probably not a terrorist' flying category. Tom Costello at National Airport in DC tonight. Tom , thanks.