Want to get back at the shoe bomber, one of the creeps who transformed the way we travel?
I did. So, after reading about a new program in my favorite newspaper, I applied for a special pass that will enable me to keep my shoes on — and avoid other nitpicking — at security checkpoints around the country.
It’s called “TSA PreCheck.” Except the feds use a check mark instead of spelling it out. Just like the E-Check people used to do. But don’t worry — this program makes a lot more sense than E-Check.
(Talk about damning with faint praise.)
Anyway, for $85 and a felony-free record, the Transportation Security Administration is not only OK with you leaving on your shoes but keeping your laptop in its case and sticking approved liquids and gels in your carry-on bag (instead of having to present them in plastic bags). Wearing light jackets and belts through the machinery is no longer an issue, either.
Your 85 bucks will keep you moving faster for five years.
At first glance, that might seem a little pricey for the casual traveler. But let’s break it down: If you fly even twice a year — meaning four trips through checkpoints a year for five years — you’re paying only $4.25 per ride. And if you get caught in traffic or bad weather and are cutting things close, breezing through security could make a trip-altering difference.
Although there are other ways to get special clearance, Clarence, the Akron-Canton Airport staged a special five-day, in-person sign-up that ended Friday. It was a smash hit: Officials were expecting about 250 applicants and got 925.
So many people applied that the program will be repeated April 17-21.
My own experience went smoothly from start to finish.
On Jan. 16, the day our story appeared, I hopped on the designated web page, filled out basic biographical information and reserved a time to sit down with a TSA rep at CAK.
Immediately I received a confirmation email with all the details about how it would work and what I would need to bring.
Five days before my appointment, I received a reminder email.
Naturally, the morning of my appointment (Thursday), the snow was falling harder than a Cleveland Browns quarterback. But I arrived with a little time to spare, parked in the short-term lot and hiked up the stairs to the second floor of the terminal.
There I encountered a woman behind a portable table who was in charge of checking people in — and, to my pleasant surprise, handing out cards that negated the parking charge you’d normally incur.
There was no line in front of her, nor was there any wait for my meeting with the TSA rep, who was located just around the corner from the check-in desk behind a cloth privacy screen.
He asked me to present my credit card and two pieces of the required documentation. In my case, that was a certified copy of my birth certificate and my Ohio driver’s license. A passport works, too (either current or expired for less than 12 months), as does a state ID.
The man pulled up my preregistration information and did some typing while I watched his keystrokes on a monitor aimed my way.
Then he booked me.
I did feel a bit like a criminal when he took my prints. All of my prints. It’s a three-step process using a small scanner. First, you place your two thumbs on the glass plate. Then the four fingers of your right hand and finally — how did you guess?! — the four on your left.
You also are required to punch your Social Security number into a keypad — twice.
I was told I would get a letter somewhere down the line but could go on a website within a few days and likely get my Known Traveler Number, or KTN, as we travel mavens call it.
On the down side, I was disappointed to learn I would not get an actual card proving I’m an upstanding American citizen. The way it works is your special status is printed on the boarding passes and embedded in the barcode. When the first person at a checkpoint scans your boarding pass, you are directed to the faster line.
With all these people anteing up for the fast lane, will that one grow longer and slower than the regular ones?
Not to worry, I was told. The TSA says 96 percent of its PreCheck passengers wait in line less than five minutes.
The final say on this actually rests with the airlines — and not all of them are playing along. Allegiant is not. But that won’t be an issue at CAK after Allegiant flies the coop at the end of this month. All of the remaining carriers — Spirit, Delta, American and United — are onboard.
PreCheck is now accepted at 190 airports around the country.
If you’re hankering for special clearance and don’t want to wait until the next CAK sign-up, there’s a permanent PreCheck enrollment site in an office building at 3094 W. Market St. in Fairlawn. (To see the hours and make an appointment, go to www.identogo.com.)
What percentage of the applicants are turned down? The TSA declined to tell me. But it did say those who are rejected will be informed within two weeks.
Hmm. Maybe I should have waited a little longer to write this column …
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.