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TSA Rolled Out Improved Flyer Identity Verification Technology in February

By Kelly Hoggan

TSA's new credential authentication technology (CAT) devices promise to reduce security wait times.

The Transportation Security Administration continuously works to streamline and improve the security screening process and even shorten the time air travelers interact with it. TSA looks at everything from how its security officers employ the latest generation of carryon luggage examination devices to the way in which they set up passenger screening lanes. The manner in which the agency verifies a flyer’s identity as they enter a screening checkpoint is also constantly evolving, with the latest improvements to its Credential Authentication Technology, or CAT, being illustrative of that fact.

ID Versus Boarding Pass

TSA plans to roll out 500 new and technologically advanced Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) screening machines in an initial deployment to airports nationwide beginning in February, starting with Pittsburgh, Miami, Phoenix, Charlotte, Seattle and Austin. Rather than presenting your boarding pass to a TSA security officer you’ll only need to present an approved form of ID, such as a passport or your REAL ID-compliant driver’s license.

How it Works

Once you’ve presented your ID to the TSA security officer at your screening lane they’ll scan the document to verify its authenticity. The system will then cross-reference the data on it with the TSA’s vetting database, called Secure Flight. That part of the system looks for flyers placed on “No Fly” lists as well as suspected terrorists and those air travelers who could pose a national security risk.

Passenger Itinerary

With very few exceptions, such as at Pittsburgh’s airport, those going through TSA’s security checkpoints must have a passenger itinerary from their airline before they can enter them. Pittsburgh and a few other facilities allow sightseers to shop or dine at concourse stores and restaurants, though with certain restrictions such as during certain hours and days of the week. Those visitors must also go through TSA security just as if they were flying that day.

In addition to vetting flyers’ identity, CAT also cross-checks their itineraries to ensure they have a specific flight at that airport. The ultimate aim of the upgraded screening technology is to improve efficiency and reduce wait times, all while strengthening the air traveler vetting process.

Not Every Lane

The effectiveness of TSA’s initial deployment of CAT devices will depend on how many TSA screening officers are available and trained on using the new identification vetting technology. Passengers in security lanes not having a CAT device as yet will still have to present their paper or electronic boarding pass plus their ID. But TSA plans to add more devices as additional screening officers are trained in the newly upgraded identity verification and vetting system. The agency’s goal is that every screening lane will eventually be staffed with CAT machines and TSA officers trained in how to use them.

Passenger Information Discrepancies

TSA and the airlines are reminding air travelers they should do everything they can to ensure that the personal information they’re reporting to their airline matches that contained on their government IDs. For example, a flyer whose driver’s license lists his name as “William” should also make sure his airline itinerary also says “William” and not “Bill.” TSA security officers using CAT technology will have less leeway to allow passengers with name and other identifying information discrepancies through security, unfortunately.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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