O'Hare Airport to test lower-hassle screening

A belt and shoes belonging to Louis Mason sits in a tray that is being used in the safety screening of travelers done by the Transportation Security Administration, at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. (FILE) (AP Photo/Ann Johansson)

February 8, 2012 3:22:37 PM PST
A new security screening program is coming to O'Hare Airport.

Transportation officials say it is designed to be more convenient, but only for certain passengers who are eligible for the program

O'Hare is one of 28 additional airports that will be testing the new screening process. To become eligible, passengers must share personal information with the TSA and then be declared a "low-risk" traveler.

The TSA PreCheck program is a response to complaints that the government is not using common sense in screening all passengers the same way.

Those eligible for the program are some passengers who take part in Delta and American airlines' frequent fliers programs, and soon, United will be added to that list.

These days, it is to be expected, when you go through security at the airport, the routine includes taking off your shoes and belt, and taking out your laptop. But TSA has been tweaking this one-size-fits-all approach to screening passengers before they catch a flight and is making security less of a hassle for frequent fliers.

"This is our new risk-based approach to security, supported by programs like PreCheck that not only help us ensure the aviation environment remains safe, but also makes travel more pleasant," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security.

Napolitano joined the TSA Wednesday morning in announcing the expansion of TSA PreCheck. It gives eligible travelers the option of volunteering more personal information about themselves so the government can vet them for security purposes. Those passengers will be issued boarding passes with special barcodes deeming them low risk. That means they can probably keep on their belts and shoes when being screened.

TSA PreCheck could arrive at O'Hare as early as March and has the interest of local frequent fliers.

"An express system would be really nice, just so you don't have to be so much earlier for the flight," said frequent flier Yancarlo Mondriguez.

"It sounds like it's got some promise," said frequent flier Ian Walsworth. "I'd need to see some more information about it, but I would probably take a look at it if they were offering that program at the airports I travel through."

TSA PreCheck has been tested at seven airports and is being expanded to 28 US airports this year as more airlines take part.

Some passengers, though, say they are concerned this push for convenience could compromise safety.

"How are you going to be able to trust somebody by not taking off your shoes, your jackets, things like that?" said frequent flier Donna Brodie. "You want to be able to trust the airlines that you're gonna be flying on."

There is no fee to participate in TSA PreCheck, but not everyone who registers is guaranteed to qualify.