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Change in TSA screening may mean longer waits at TSA checkpoints

Transportation Security Administration agents examine a traveler’s luggage. (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

This post has been updated and corrected. The opening paragraph of this post did not accurately describe “Managed Inclusion II”  a practice which TSA recently discontinued. Instead it referred to a program known as Secure Flight, which allows travelers to use TSA Pre lines even if they haven’t signed up for the program and paid the associated fees. That program remains in operation. If Secure Flight selects you for TSA Pre , you’ll see a TSA Pre notation in the corner of your boarding pass.

You had just checked in, received your boarding pass and there it was –that little notation in the corner: “TSA Pre✓.”

For travelers, who had not gone through the special screening process and paid the fee required to enroll in TSA’s expedited airport screening program, it was a serendipitous moment. One that meant you could keep your shoes on, your laptop packed and in most cases breeze through security without the take-the-shoes-off-empty-your-pockets routine to which we’ve grown so accustomed.

Alas, such moments will be no more.

As part of an effort to tighten airport screening — fallout after a draft of an inspector general’s report leaked to the media found federal undercover investigators were able to penetrate security checkpoints at U.S. airports, while carrying illegal weapons or simulated bombs, 95 percent of the time — TSA in September, quietly did away with the program, known in TSA-speak as “Managed Inclusion II.”

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According to a statement from TSA spokesman Mike England explaining the change:

TSA routinely evaluates the effectiveness of airport checkpoint screening procedures at all U.S. airports to ensure the security of travelers. TSA has recently eliminated the practice of utilizing behavior detection officers and explosive trace detection sampling to direct certain passengers into TSA Pre✓® expedited screening lanes, a practice known as “Managed Inclusion II.”

As part of “Managed Inclusion II” TSA behavior detection officers would select travelers and administer explosives trace detection tests. If they traveler passed the test, that person would be permitted to use the TSA Pre✓® line, even if the had not signed up for the service.

TSA has kept in place another program (Managed Inclusion I) that allows travelers to use the PreCheck line as long as they have been pre-screened by TSA canines.

The shift has implications for travelers. Since fewer folks are being directed to PreCheck queues, it may mean longer waits for regular travelers. Some airports, including Dulles International, Reagan National and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, are reporting slightly longer waits at TSA screening lines because of the change.

Christopher Paolino, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages  Dulles and National, said the shift has led to an increase in average and peak wait times. And while he was quick to note that airports don’t control the security lines, they are working with TSA to ensure any concerns are addressed.

“We want our passengers to have a good experience,” he said.

Paolino noted that passengers traveling out of Dulles can check the site for current wait times.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall, spokesman Jonathan Dean the shift hasn’t been dramatic, but may be affecting wait times during certain peak travel periods.

“We work very closely with TSA regarding security procedures and have asked them to monitor TSA queues following the procedure change,” he added.

While “Managed Inclusion” may have been a nice bonus for travelers who had not signed up for TSA Pre✓®,  those who want the benefits will now have to , be screened and pay the $85 fee (which is good for five years).

Said TSA’s England:

Overall, the agency is now moving toward offering TSA Pre✓® expedited screening only to trusted and pre-vetted travelers enrolled in the TSA Pre✓® program, and is working with a number or partners to expand enrollment in program. Aviation security employs multiple layers, both seen and unseen, to ensure the safety of the traveling public, and TSA constantly tests and challenges this system in order to enhance capabilities and improve techniques as threats evolve.

TSA recently announced expanded hours at some PreCheck sign up centers.