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TSA launches program to expedite security screening at Sky Harbor

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PHOENIX – Annoying waits in security lines at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport won’t be as long for some passengers with the launch of an expedited screening program.

The Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday that Pre-Check is now available to passengers invited through US Airways’ frequent flier program and those who have undergone background checks through the Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs.

“TSA Pre-Check is one of several risk-based, intelligence-driven measures currently helping TSA move away from a one-size-fits-all security model,” said Paul Berumen, TSA’s senior adviser to the chief of staff.

By conducting individual background checks before Pre-Check passengers get to the airport, Berumen said TSA workers can focus their efforts.

Participants, identified by barcodes on their boarding passes, may be allowed to keep on shoes, a light jacket and a belt and as well as leaving a computer in its case. They may also be freed from having to remove small liquids from their bags.

Pre-Check travelers won’t always get expedited screening – when randomly selected they will have to go through checkpoints with everybody else. And they’ll still have their bags X-rayed and must go through metal detectors.

“No individual … is ever guaranteed expedited screening,” Berumen said.

The program, launched in fall 2011, now includes five airlines operating out of 22 airports. To date, 2.2 million people have seen some form of expedited screening through Pre-Check, Berumen said.

TSA aims to offer the program at 35 airports by the end of 2012.

Members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection programs like Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS have also been able to participate since the program’s launch.

Chad Makovsky, the assistant aviation director at Sky Harbor, said the program will continue to grow.

“We’re committed to working with the TSA and our airline partners to identify opportunities to expand this program in the very near future to other checkpoints and other airlines here at Sky Harbor,” he said.

Bruce Schneier, the author of several books on security and a staunch critic of TSA policies, said the program helps address frequent fliers’ complaints about long lines at security. A Pre-Check traveler himself, Schneier said the program should be expanded.

“If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s a great system,” he said. “It’s worth it for all the stupid things you don’t have to do. Everybody should have that.”