TAMPA — What is that blur of folks racing through security at Tampa International Airport? It’s a gaggle of pre-screened passengers deemed to be low security risks — still wearing their shoes — flying through what might otherwise be a long, annoying line.
For them, no more unsheathing their laptops, taking liquids out of their carry-on luggage or removing their jackets.
A new TSA PreCheck office is now open at the airport, allowing more convenient access to the program that can put travelers in that fast-moving screening line. And new x-ray equipment going in this week will help to further expedite the security process by allowing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers to more quickly and more thoroughly check carry-on bags.
The TSA officially unveiled the new PreCheck office on Wednesday. It is located in the Red Baggage Claim Area near Belt 13. Walk-ins are welcome.
Already, some 10,000 passengers departing Tampa International daily, are using the PreCheck program, which geared up here in July 2012. An existing TSA PreCheck office at 2525 E Hillsborough Ave., Suite 203, is constantly booked with appointments. So, the new airport PreCheck office should help alleviate the hassle of signing up for the program, said Mark Howell, TSA’s regional spokesman.
There is a fee — it’s $85 and the pre-screening is good for five years, but applicants must have the proper documentation when they show up to apply, Howell said. A passport and valid driver license are best, but without a passport, other documents are required. A complete listing of how to sign up and what documents are needed can be found at tsa.gov.
Once approved, applicants will receive a letter in the mail with a number they can enter on their boarding passes to ensure they get placed in the PreCheck line.
There is no shortage of local travelers interested in the program. Between 60 and 70 people are applying for TSA PreCheck here every day, Howell said. Not everyone will make the cut.
Applicants are fingerprinted and a criminal background check is conducted. “If you have a DUI, that probably wouldn’t get you a denial,” Howell said. “But if you have an assault on your record, or something else that could put other passengers in jeopardy, then yes,” a traveler could be denied the pre-screening fast pass.
The $85 application fee is non-refundable, so if someone knows it is likely their application will be declined, they should consider that before applying, Howell said.
Those heading for security at the airport on Wednesday found the PreCheck line a pleasant break from the long lines customers have been dealing with since more stringent security requirements went in place following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
“It works great for me,” said Meredith Berk of Los Angeles, after moving quickly through the PreCheck line. “It felt very VIP.”
Sylvia Dockx of Lakeland, heading to New Hampshire, got randomly chosen to skip the usual security line Wednesday and go through the PreCheck line.
“It was a breeze, but my poor husband had to go through the regular line,” she said, pointing to a slightly backed-up row of travelers eager to get to their flights.
“Even if this line gets a little backed up, it still moves quickly,” said Lee Kair, TSA Federal Security Director for the greater Tampa Bay area. “And the new x-ray equipment being installed will help, too.”
The 25 new x-ray machines allow security officers to see multiple images of a bag from various angles and to more easily determine what is in the bags. That means fewer suitcases have to go back through x-ray and fewer have to be opened, Kair said.
“That is just another way to move people through more quickly and more easily,” he said.
Already, Kair said, about 40 percent of passengers coming through Tampa International are going through some form of expedited screening.