Word comes to me today from a traveler who had a strange experience at the airport in Las Vegas today.
The traveler, who did not wish to be named, told me that he and several other passengers were "yanked" out of the security screening queue for what was termed "experimental screening."
They were led to another area, where they were instructed not to remove their shoes, belts, and laptops.
While they waited there for clearance, a TSA agent approached the group and proceeded to try to sell them membership in TSA Pre Check.
"If we liked this expedited screening process, we could enjoy it all the time by paying an $85 fee and having a government background check," reports the tipster, who was, as he said, "befuddled" and annoyed.
It's indeed true that by paying $85 for five years, members of the general public may soon (but not yet) sign up for TSA Pre Check, which grants them the right to go through security without removing belts, shoes, or laptops. Many travelers believe that providing faster security service to those who can afford it is un-American.
As noted on this blog recently, the government has been increasingly heavy-handed in pitching it to Americans, even slipping ads for it into newly issued passports despite the fact passport holders would find more economy in the Global Entry subscription program. It has also been reported by consumer advocate Christopher Elliott that everyone who signs up with TSA Pre Check will have their fingerprints collected and retained in a police database for 75 years, available to the FBI, state, and local law enforcement whenever a crime is committed. This makes some libertarians nervous. (Update: One of our commenters notes that their own membership in TSA Pre Check did not require the submission of their fingerprints.)
So it would seem that the TSA in Las Vegas is attempting to drum up sales (and laterally, collect fingerprints for law enforcement) by using its authority to order passengers to go through the TSA Pre Check line, which so far is open to passengers such as Global Entry members and top-tier frequent flyers, to give them a free sample.
Arthur Frommer believes, and I agree with him, that it's highly unlikely that this sort of hard sell has been ordered or sanctioned by the TSA's managers. It's possible that in this case, the Vegas TSA was being thoughtful in bringing a random selection of travelers to the TSA Pre Check line during a quiet period, and then an officer took it upon himself to turn the screening into a sales call. But the passenger in question came away with the impression that it was all about the sales pitch.
Because of the federal government shutdown, no one in the Transportation Security Administration was available to cast light on this practice or validate its authority.
Have any other Frommer's readers else experienced a similar hard-sell from the TSA for its paid security upgrade programs?
TSA Pre Check recruitment banner from the TSA website