Is the TSA Finally Making Folks Happy?

PHOTO: A traveler walks past a newly-opened TSA Pre-check application center at LaGuardia Airport

Remember those see-through airport scanners? The media were couldn't get enough of those "naked" machines but that's died down since early 2013 when the TSA began phasing them out.

On the other hand, just last week I saw a headline complaining about "TSA Scanners That Saw You Naked" but again, naked machines have left the building. Security is changing in other ways, too.

So is the TSA making everyone happy now? Of course not. But it does seem like they're satisfying more and more travelers. Maybe you're one of them.

The centerpiece of a better security experience for many is PreCheck, the program that helps travelers get through security more quickly. According to TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein, more than 3,000 folks nationwide signed up for PreCheck last Tuesday alone which is a pretty big deal considering you have to go for an in-person interview at an airport or off-site location and membership costs $85 (though it's good for five years).

What do you get for the money? Dedicated members-only lanes in 115 airports where you can keep your shoes and jacket on, leave your electronic devices in cases, and you don't have to pull the toiletries zip-bag out of your carry-on. Trust me, it's almost always faster.

And now it's getting even better. Administrator John Pistole says the TSA will begin "tapering back" on the number of passengers randomly selected for PreCheck privileges (who paid zip) and that's very good news for PreCheck members.

Supposedly the designated-freeloaders were pulled into PreCheck lanes only when the speedy lanes were under-utilized, but plenty of members said that's not always the way it worked thanks to unaware or untrained TSA agents back-filling with designees. In any event, that's changing so if you were one who enjoyed cutting in line for free, maybe it's time to sign up for real.

Or maybe sign up for another program. TSA officials say PreCheck is not the best program for everyone. If you fly to Europe a lot, for example, try Global Entry instead: It's just $3 more per year but gives you all the benefits of PreCheck while also speeding up entry into the U.S. after flights across the Atlantic. Nexus is a similar type program for U.S.-Canada travelers while Sentri may be best for U.S.-Mexico travel. If not sure which is right for you, the Department of Homeland Security has a comprehensive chart with the pros and cons of each.

Rank and file TSA agents meanwhile have been keeping busy finding interesting stuff in travelers' luggage, which is no surprise since they process nearly 1.8 million passengers each day. Here's a sample of some of the more colorful finds (and these items were all discovered last week).

• U.S. airports nationwide: 52 firearms; 45 loaded and 21 had rounds chambered. • Albuquerque: Knife concealed in a lipstick tube. • Memphis: Two canes, each with a 12-inch blade hidden inside. • Tampa: Cellphone case doubling as a dagger sheath. • Tucson: Live smoke grenade in a checked-bag. • New York (JFK): Two inert grenades in two checked bags.

Avoid these items along with anything that could possibly be viewed as a weapon, and that includes souvenirs and replicas. You don't want to slow down the PreCheck lanes, do you?

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