Editor’s note: “Bringing It Home” runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.
Security lines at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport are moving a little more quickly these days because of the Transportation Security Administration’s loosened-up checkpoint screening procedures.
The accelerated process came in mid-October, when the TSA rolled out an offshoot of its PreCheck program at the Aspen airport, meaning that some passengers don’t have to remove their shoes, headwear or light outerwear when going through the security checkpoint.
Passengers who qualify are those already enrolled in the PreCheck program or those the TSA determines, using its pre-screening program, are not a security risk.
The expedited process, said airport Executive Director Jim Elwood, “isn’t PreCheck, but it’s a variance of it.”
In addition to PreCheck enrollees, select passengers learn they won’t be subject to the normal inspections after arriving at the airport. There, they’re given a laminated yellow card to provide to TSA officers before going through the checkpoint.
Even so, they still have to remove laptop computers and other electronic devices before passing through security, as the airport has just one security lane and doesn’t have a PreCheck lane.
“We’re trying to get away from the one-size-fits-all approach,” Jason Higgins, the TSA’s acting manager at the Aspen airport, said Friday.
How do the non-PreCheck members face less scrutiny at the checkpoints? The TSA’s risk-assessment program allows it to determine if travelers shouldn’t be subject to the same security screening as others by pre-screening travelers before they arrive at the airport.
Citing TSA restrictions, Higgins declined to comment about what goes into pre-screening passengers at the Aspen airport.
While the PreCheck program started in 2011, last month the TSA began to expand the program aggressively to airports throughout the U.S., with the goal to have it available at more than 350 airports by the end of 2014, according to published reports.
TSA PreCheck lanes are currently available at 92 airports — but not Aspen’s — in the U.S.
Brian Grefe, the airport’s assistant director of aviation, said that the goal is to have a TSA PreCheck lane in Aspen. For that to happen, the airport would need to demonstrate that it has enough eligible passengers — at least 50 percent — to justify the expense. As it stands, PreCheck enrollees and select fliers who cleared pre-screening account for about 25 to 45 percent of the Aspen airport’s passengers.
The program had been available to frequent fliers associated with the seven airlines that are part of the Trusted Traveler Program, managed by the federal government. Now it’s available to any U.S. citizen who clears a background check and pays $85.