Exiting TSA director wants to ease liquids ban for some passengers

Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, shown here at a hearing in Congress in 2011, announced his resignation.
(Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, who will retire from his post at the end of the year, thinks passengers who have been vetted by the agency’s PreCheck Program should be allowed to take their bottled water through airport security checkpoints.

In fact, he’d like to see “a loosening of some restrictions for liquids and gels on flights” for carry-on bags taken on board planes by those PreCheck-approved travelers, he told USA Today last week.

Pistole says the move wouldn’t happen before he leaves Dec. 31. And it doesn’t mean he’s backing down from the agency’s mission of finding terrorists who want to blow up planes.

He told an aviation symposium last month: “We know that commercial aviation is still an attractive target to our adversaries, and more specifically, we believe that increasingly sophisticated, nonmetallic IEDs [improvised explosive devices] remain one of the most serious threats to aviation security.


“Detecting these items, as well as the components needed to build them, is critical.”

The TSA screens about 640 million passengers and about 2 billion checked and carry-on bags each year, Pistole said.

About 45% of the travelers in the U.S., including flight crew members, receive expedited screening. As of last summer, just 1% of passengers waited more than 20 minutes at airport security lines.

Pistole says his successor should continue the risk-based approach to security that he pioneered with the PreCheck program, which has 600,000 members and has been rolled out at 120 airports across the country.

The agency this fall invited private companies to bid on processing new members.

Travelers who enroll in PreCheck pay $85 for five years and undergo a background check to access expedited security lines at airport checkpoints. Members don’t have to remove their jackets or belts and may keep liquids and laptops in their carry-on bags during screening.