TSA introduces express screening at airports

By now you probably know the drill at airports when it comes to security: shoes and belts off, pockets empty, those three-ounce liquids in a separate bag, and not to mention the wait time.

The routine, though, is changing -- for some travelers, anyway. The TSA began testing a new program Tuesday allowing pre-screened passengers to speed through security at four airports: Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and Dallas-Fort Worth. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann checked it out.

At mid-morning, Atlanta's airport -- the nation's busiest -- was a security bottleneck. But one line breezed through in seconds.

Chris McLaughlin heads security for the TSA -- and "Pre-Check," its new test program. He singled out one passenger at a security screening while showing Strassman around inside the airport.

"You noticed today that he is not having to take out his computer, he's able to leave his shoes on."

Delta and American Airlines have invited selected frequent flyers to share personal information, such as a home address and contact info. In return, the TSA let them walk through security without removing anything, as people in neighboring lines struggled to untie their laces.

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"We are truly moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to security, to a risk-based intelligence-based approach," said McLaughlin.

Which means the TSA's moving away from screening everyone the same way. Instead, it's putting more scrutiny on high-risk travelers -- those showing suspicious behavior or with a criminal history.

That should speed things along for low-risk frequent flyers like John Pait. "I'm in shock," he said, reacting to the new service.

"What's the part you hated most?" Strassman asked him.

"I think taking the coat off, the shoes off, the laptop," he said. "It's five or six steps. And this was (sound of finger snaps) like that."

In two months, the TSA could expand the program nationwide -- as more airlines invite their frequent flyers to join the sprint through security.

But even for flyers in this program, there's no guarantee of expedited security. In a post 9/11 world, keeping it unpredictable is the lifeblood of airport security.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.