By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz wants the Transportation Security Agency to ease security screening measures for local residents on interisland flights.
In a letter to TSA Director John S. Pistole on Monday, Schatz requested more “Pre-Check” lines for interisland travelers at Hawaii airports. The special lines allow those deemed to be low-risk passengers to move more quickly through airport security lines.
Qualified low-risk passengers in Pre-Check lines, including U.S. military personnel, are not required to remove their shoes, belts or light jackets, or to take small containers of liquids and laptop computers out of their carry-on bags.
Passengers on interisland flights in Hawaii do not have the Pre-Check option available to them and are still subject to the full screening process.
More than 40 airports nationwide use Pre-Check lines, and more than 10 million passengers have used the Pre-Check program since it was launched in October 2011, according to the TSA.
Only the Honolulu airport so far has a Pre-Check line in Hawaii but only for mainland and international travelers. Schatz would like to see the Pre-Check lines set up at all airports in the state for use by interisland passengers.
“Increasing the efficacy of the passenger screening process is important to supporting the U.S. travel and tourism industry, which is a key economic driver in Hawaii,” Schatz wrote. “The current Pre-Check lane at Honolulu International Airport addresses the needs of domestic and international visitors departing the State of Hawaii; however, it remains unavailable for intrastate travel.”
TSA spokesman David Castelveter said the agency’s goal by year-end is for one in every four travelers to experience expedited screening. “We continue to look for every opportunity to increase the population of travelers eligible for TSA Pre-Check and other initiatives,” he said.
Between 16,000 and 18,000 passengers travel daily between the four major islands. Two-thirds of those trips originate in Hawaii rather than connect to or from a long-haul flight.
Pre-Check is “a great idea,” said Vaughn Cook, a Hilo attorney and president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, who travels to Honolulu at least a couple of times a month.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to participate (in Pre-Check), but the idea sounds good,” Cook said. “Certain periods of the day they’re slammed. It will help speed things along and free up time for everybody.”
The Pre-Check program is part of the agency’s “risk-based” security concept that focuses on passengers the agency knows the least about. The program is available to U.S. citizens invited by an airline based on frequent-flier program history, and to U.S. citizens enrolled in Customs and Border Protection “Trusted Traveler” programs.
Enrollment costs $100 to qualify for five years. TSA doesn’t guarantee, however, that in certain situations even a Pre-Check traveler won’t get the full security treatment.
“TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening,” said a TSA media release. “TSA’s multi-layered approach to security also includes behavior detection officers, explosives-detection systems, canine teams and federal air marshals, among other measures both seen and unseen.”
That’s still not reassuring to Florence Kong Kee, government affairs specialist for United Public Workers, who travels on interisland flights two or more times a week.
Kong Kee was more cautious about expediting people though the airport screening process. “With all that’s been going on recently, the emphasis should be on safety,” she said. “It would be a convenience, (but) I would tend to be more on the cautious end.”
Cook, however, agreed with Sen. Schatz about the reality of travel in an island state. “There is no other option. No bridge, no Superferry. We have to fly.”
For more information on qualifying for Pre-Check, go to www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.
Email Hunter Bishop at email@example.com.