Famous Last Words: The Selling of TSA Precheck

The TSA Precheck program allows travelers to pay for the perks, such as waiting in shorter security lines.

When the 9/11 terrorists struck, airport security changed dramatically. Travelers were urged to get to the airport four hours in advance of their flights.

A month later, I had to be in Chicago for the DMA convention. I wasn’t scared of flying. With the increased security, this was probably the safest time to fly in the history of commercial aviation. However, I opted not to go through the airport check-in mayhem and instead bought round-trip Amtrak passage with a sleeping compartment.

How was it? In two words: damn pleasant. I relaxed, worked, ate so-so meals, read and really slept. The train was several hours late, but so what?

Although airport screening is far more organized now, it’s still a nuisance. Whenever I go through the process, how I envy those perfect, practiced pirouettes performed by George Clooney in “Up in the Air.”

New Senior Benefits: Smart Marketing
In its zeal to make traveling safer after 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) randomly pulled every Nth person from the line and did a random search. Old folks in wheelchairs, as well as small children, were patted down. The resultant publicity was disastrous.

So for those of us over 75, the TSA has lightened up the rules. Oldsters can:

Leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints.

Undergo an additional pass through Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) to clear any anomalies detected during screening.

TSA Precheck
On several recent flights, Peggy and I found ourselves in the new TSA Precheck
program line. It has even looser rules.

For years, Peggy and I were road warriors. We flew a lot and never made trouble. Presumably, some database recognized us as no threat. So maybe the Feds were giving us a free sample of TSA Precheck. Not only did we have to go through fewer hassles, but also the TSA Precheck lines were a lot shorter.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Scott Lunt

    I encountered the TSA Pre Check last October coming back from Lisbon. I wrote about it in a blog post on my travel site, Travelinas.com. The post was mainly about how rudely the TSA and Philly airport employees treated passengers, but the precheck process caused much confusion because it was implemented so poorly. From my post:
    “When it comes to customer service, Philadelphia International Airport is a failed state in need of an overhaul. And maybe this new system works better in more intelligently managed airports. But TSA Pre Check, as it currently stands, is a terrible way to try to improve the security process. It reminds me of all those self checkout lanes that grocery stores implemented years ago. They seemed like a good idea, but often made it slower and harder to get out of the store and still required a full-time employee. I’ve noticed many stores have removed those lanes. It’s time for the TSA to reevaluate their system and try to get it right.”

  • Scott Huch

    The Transportation Security Administration has been the most effective long-term advertising campaign in the history of Amtrak. Unintentionally, of course. Like you, Denny, I had to travel from Washington, D.C., to Chicago in October 2001. I took the overnight train and LOVED it. I have travelled almost everyplace I’ve gone since then by train. I love to fly — I just hate everything that goes with it. You spend hours blindly obeying the commands of a series of mostly anonymous “authorities. It’s just awful. And I’d almost rather take a whuppin’ than go through a TSA checkpoint. Yuck. Gone are the “glamor days” of air travel. Frankly, First Class on Amtrak is much, MUCH nicer than coach on any airline these days. Thanks for another interesting column, Denny!

  • Judy Colbert

    Your points are spot-on, as usual.
    As someone who used to travel constantly and who has traveled almost exclusively by Amtrak for the past three-four years, I don’t have any details. I think you have another choice. If you have a premium credit or charge card (I’m thinking Amex, but there are others, probably), they will pay your Precheck fee. Obviously, not an option on the TSA Web site, but something else to consider.

  • tony the pitiful copywriter

    My wife and I discovered we had TSA Precheck tickets on a recent trip. We fly maybe two or three times a year, so we’re not sure how we qualified. For all I know, we may have paid for it without realizing.

    I had a vinyl (records) convention I was not going to miss in November of 2001, terrorists or not. My buddy and I took Amtrak from Raleigh, NC to New York City. Set aside the awkward boarding time (6 am), the trip was very pleasant and the legroom to die for. Arriving at Pennsylvania Station and walking to our hotel, we could still see and smell the smoke from the ruins of the World Trade Center. The city was still rather subdued and not up to its usually high level of energy. When I got to WFMU’s Record Show, everyone there was just happy to be there.

    I just wonder if a commercial entity ran the railroads like they used to, would there be more marketing aimed at unenthusiastic air passengers like me? On the other hand, I’ve ridden Amtrack since then with my family and there is no consistent experience. Sometimes it’s wonderful and other times it’s a total WTF experience.

  • Barbara Weckstein Kaplowitz

    I, too, wondered if TSA was offering random Precheck trials. On a recent flight my status was Precheck outbound, and I loved whipping through security. On the return flight, I wasn’t flagged as Precheck, and had to deal with really long lines, taking off my shoes, and unpacking my computer. Talk about concrete reinforcement of benefits! I jumped onto the TSA website immediately. Along with the confusing chart, TSA is also missing the boat on selling when the consumer is most likely to need them: on weekends. You can apply in person at many airports on your day of travel — but only weekdays during business hours — or wait three weeks for a pre-scheduled appointment at your nearest participating airport.

  • Ray Ammari

    Too confusing. Gives me an excuse to get there early. Leaves me 85 Bucks to “people watch” with a good Scotch at the bar.