By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The agency that screens U.S. airline passengers for security clearance said on Wednesday it would expand an expedited program to 60 more airports this year, allowing tens of millions of travelers to keep on their shoes and belts at airport checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said its TSA PreCheck program will operate at 100 airports in 42 U.S. states plus Guam and Puerto Rico. The agency also plans to expand the number of TSA PreCheck lanes at the existing 40 airports in the coming weeks.
With TSA PreCheck, pre-approved airline travelers may leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt while they go through security. They do not have to remove laptop computers from cases or take out approved-sized liquids out of carry-on bags before the bags are screened.
"As TSA continues to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to transportation security, we are looking for more opportunities to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way possible," TSA Administrator John Pistole said.
Passengers who are eligible for PreCheck include U.S. citizens of frequent traveler programs who are invited to apply by participating airlines including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.
Additionally, U.S. citizens who are members of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program and Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS expedited travel program qualify to participate.
The TSA will launch an application program later this year for PreCheck, which lets travelers fill out an online application and provide fingerprints. Applicants must pay an $85 enrollment fee for a five-year term of eligibility.
If a passenger is approved for PreCheck, a TSA PreCheck indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass, allowing the passenger to move to the expedited screening line.
TSA can revoke or suspend the PreCheck if a passenger has had security issues at the gate or has committed a crime since a PreCheck was granted, a TSA official said. In addition, TSA could randomly require a PreCheck passenger to go through regular security.
The TSA said to date, more than 15 million passengers have experienced TSA PreCheck since it was launched in October 2011. But this is still just a small fraction of the 2 million passengers each day passing through U. S. Airports.
The U.S. Travel Association, a travel industry group, has praised the TSA for launching PreCheck and for speeding the process through airports by removing low-risk travelers from the regular screening process.
Erik Hansen director of domestic policy for the association, said the challenge will be to get more people to enroll in PreCheck to speed the security screening process.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)