The TSA’s ‘managed inclusion’ is over, but we’re not done asking questions

Remember the early days of Precheck, when the TSA would let random passengers skip the long line and enjoy a more civil screening?

Well, I have some bad news: Those days are over. The TSA is quietly phasing out its program of managed inclusion.

Managed inclusion, you’ll recall, allowed agents to conduct “real-time threat assessments” (giving you a quick glance), and allowed you to use expedited airport security lanes typically reserved for vetted TSA Precheck passengers. Several Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports reveal the program is less than effective.

But passengers are still asking questions, and they’re the kind of questions that call the TSA’s entire security cabaret into question.

Mark Lipsman experienced the song and dance several times when he flew.

“I haven’t joined Precheck,” he says. “I asked a TSA agent why they were letting me use the Precheck line, and he said it was basically a free sample.”

That doesn’t sit well with him.

“If they trust us enough to let us through once, why don’t they do it permanently, without our having to join the program?” he asks. “And why do they charge $85 to join, when it requires practically no overhead and makes it easier for everyone?”

Those are excellent questions, and so far the TSA hasn’t really answered them to anyone’s satisfaction.

So let’s take them one at a time.

If they trust us once, why not all the time? That was the issue with “managed” inclusion, which allowed TSA employees to eyeball you for suspicious behavior. What’s suspicious? A five-o’clock shadow? A hijab? A grimace? Who knows? But we do know that it worked, in the sense that there was no 9/11 repeat.

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Here’s what the TSA probably should have done: Instead of ending managed inclusion, it should have expanded it. Instead of whittling down the pool of harmless passengers into a few who pose a risk, the TSA should turn the equation on its head, working to identify the dangerous passengers from among the rest, and giving them the additional screening.

Managed inclusion showed us that all the flimflam with body scanners and pat-downs was essentially meaningless. A TSA employee can just look at us and tell if we’re going to be trouble. Or something like that.

Why do they charge $85 to join? Another great question. Airport security is funded by taxes and by fees in our tickets. And you want us to pay more? Sounds like yet another junk fee. That makes no sense. While it’s true that Precheck isn’t free, in the sense that it costs the government money to run it, it’s also true that we fund the government with our taxes.

This two-tiered system is fundamentally un-American. We already have a caste system on the plane, where the “haves” have too much and the “have-nots” are served table scraps. I’ll spend the rest of my career fighting for the folks in the back of the plane to have a little dignity. But being separated into classes by our own government — a government that claims to value equal rights and dignity — is troublesome.

Pulling back on managed inclusion doesn’t answer these questions or solve these problems. For people like Lipsman, it just ratchets up the annoyance at an agency that hides behind bureaucracy and double-speak.

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All air travelers deserve better.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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