Frequent travelers give TSA low marks despite PreCheck expansion

The TSA's PreCheck program has been expanded to 121 airports

The Transportation Security Administration is falling flat in its efforts to win the hearts of frequent fliers.

Nearly 86% of frequent fliers surveyed said the agency is doing a “poor” or a “fair” job. And that’s after the expansion of a popular program to speed frequent fliers through airport checkpoints.

The survey of more than 2,700 travelers by the online Frequent Business Traveler magazine is bad news for the TSA, which recently expanded its expedited “PreCheck” program to 121 airports in the U.S. to cut the hassle of screening.

Under PreCheck, travelers who have submitted background information to the TSA can zip through a special screening line without removing their shoes, belts or coats and without taking their laptop computers out of their carry-on bags. The cost to apply is $85.

TSA officials say they expect satisfaction levels among frequent travelers to grow as the PreCheck program expands. Last month TSA chief John Pistole announced that the agency plans to solicit bids from private companies to help screen more travelers to take part in PreCheck.

The program already screens nearly a third of the 1.8 million travelers who fly on commercial planes each day. Of the 2,200 TSA screening lines in the country, 400 are for PreCheck.

“We are encouraged by the positive feedback we continue to receive about TSA PreCheck, the opportunities to expand it and the enhancements to aviation security across the country,” TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

The news was not all bad for the TSA.

The survey found that nearly 41% of those questioned said the agency is doing a “fair” job. Plus, among travelers who have used PreCheck, 70% said they are either satisfied, somewhat satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the program. Only 8.3% said they were not satisfied.

Still, critics of the program say frequent travelers are frustrated with PreCheck because even if they pass a government background check, they are not guaranteed access to the PreCheck lines every time. Plus, TSA agents often direct fliers who have not been cleared by the government to use the PreCheck lanes when the regular screening lines get long.

“So, you can pay for it and you still may not get it,” said Joe Brancatelli, a business travel expert who writes an online column on the subject.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times