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Since the implementation of TSA security checks, boarding an plane in the U.S. has become a major hassle and time-sink. It's not uncommon to wait in line for over 1-2 hours, then have to take off your shoes & belt before getting scanned and/or patted down by a TSA agent.

While waiting in line, however, I've seen people who appear to be non-pilots or airport employees simply walk through the gate after flashing some sort of identification. And I've been told that having certain security clearances allow you to bypass the normal procedure altogether. Personally, I'd rather go through an extensive background-check process every few years than deal with the TSA every single time I have to fly somewhere for work.

In the United States, does having a federal security clearance of certain levels allow you to bypass the normal airport security process?

Note: I'm mostly concerned with domestic flights FROM and TO U.S. destinations. I rarely travel to other countries these days.

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    So - something like TSA Pre? – brhans May 31 '17 at 20:56
  • lol. this is america. hell no. – ell Jun 1 '17 at 22:20
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    @MichaelPotter - that may be the case for ATL, but I mostly fly out of Houston IAH, and a one-hour wait is not uncommon at all. And that's when things go smoothly. I don't have any "data" - I just have my own experience. It's really a moot point, anyway, when it comes to the question. – Omegacron Jun 2 '17 at 2:23
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    "Personally, I'd rather go through an extensive background-check process every few years than deal with the TSA " - Better yet, lobby your legislators to get rid of this abomination. Don't contribute to the further stratification of America by going the TSA Pre route. – Chris K Jun 2 '17 at 3:52
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    It's worth noting that even if a security clearance did let you bypass security, the US doesn't let you just apply for one. You can only get a clearance if you need it for your job, and it isn't cheap for your employer: OPM's reimbursable rate on a SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL-level investigation is over $400, and the reimbursable rate on TOP SECRET is over $5,000. – cpast Jun 4 '17 at 19:41
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There's no generally available program that would allow most people to bypass airport security altogether. Some categories of people are exempt from the normal security process after identity and background checks (though they are still subject to random checks), such as flight crew, some senior government officials with security details, police officers who are required to fly armed (this isn't simply any police officer, there are special rules and procedures), air marshals, and airport personnel.

Those individuals often use alternate staff-only access points, but that's not the case at every airport, especially smaller ones. Not everyone who falls into those categories will be wearing a uniform.

Assuming you don't fall into one of those categories, the closest program available to the general public is TSA Precheck. This allows eligible passengers who have passed a background check and traveling on a participating airline to go through a special simplified security process at many airports: you can generally keep your shoes and belt and a light jacket on; keep your laptop and liquids in your bag; and walk through a metal detector instead of a body-scanner. Though since elements of it are random, there's no guarantee you won't be checked more closely sometimes.

You can apply for TSA Precheck directly, or receive it if you qualify in other ways. Members of another Trusted Traveler program like Global Entry can receive TSA Pre benefits (if they meet the citizenship/residency requirements). In addition, members of the Armed Forces and DoD civilians can use Precheck if they supply their ID number when making air reservations.

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    Can confirm: my security clearance, when I had it, did me no good at airports. My Global Entry, now that I have that, does. – KRyan Jun 1 '17 at 14:28
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It sounds like you might have observed Known Crew Member (KCM) access.

Crewmembers can utilize the KCM access points for both business and personal use (except when traveling internationally for personal travel...)

...

Q. What should I expect when using a KCM® access point?

A. Expect to enter the sterile area of an airport via an alternative access point, which may be separate from the passenger security- screening lanes. You will be met by a TSA Security Officer (TSO) who will ask for both your company identification and a TSA-accepted, non-expired, government-issued photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license. The TSO (i.e., screener) will match the identification to your appearance and confirm your identity and current employment status via the KCM® system. Once these tasks are successfully completed, you will be allowed to proceed into the sterile area, with no other screening or inspection of your person or accessible property. It is possible, however, that you and your accessible property items may be selected for random screening. Random screening is built in as a check and balance to ensure the integrity of the KCM® system.

It is possible that there are other exemptions, but it seems likely that if you are eligible for them, you would otherwise have been made aware of them via your agency.

It might be easier to pursue Pre Check or Global Entry access.

8

What you are probably seeing are persons with SIDA badges who will get very expedited passage through TSA*. These are people who work on the Airport property.

Airport, airline and agency management and non-customer facing employees will often look like travelers if you don't specifically notice the badge since they are wearing normal professional attire, not uniforms.

I have also frequently seen uniformed Law Enforcement enter through the exit paths.

*If they choose this path as many can enter the post TSA areas through other means.

2

I use this service: https://www.clearme.com.

They promote that one gets thru security is 5 minutes. That is my experience as well.

For me they did a onetime screening of me at the airport that took about 15 minutes. It included answering questions that proved my identity such as make and model of previously owned cars and addresses. They then scanned my eyes and finger prints.

Now when I go to the airport I step up to a clear kiosk (I have never waited) and press my fingers on a scanner and show my boarding pass to the agent. The agent then puts me at the head of the security line (by-passing the usual check of ID) so I am next in line to put my things in the x-ray machine.

I am also precheck so I go to the head of the precheck line, but there are clear kiosks at the regular security lines as well.

[EDIT] The problem the OP is trying to solve is that he spends an hour getting thru security when everything goes smoothly. It is not a stretch guess that most of that time is spent in line. So it seems a service that puts him at the head of the line seems like a good solution. The cost of $180/year is quite a bit less than what a typical security clearance costs ($3,000-$15,000) [Assuming this fictional type of security clearance was similar cost as a top security clearance for contractors]. In addition, there are discounts available that make the program less than $180/year.

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    Clearme does not allow you to bypass security, it just allows you to bypass the line for security. It also costs $180 per year, which is much more than the trusted traveller programs. – DJClayworth Jun 3 '17 at 16:05
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    plus it no doubt works only at specific airports with whom the company has a contract. Amsterdam Schiphol has a similar system of their own, where you pay them a monthly fee and get a special fast lane to use (as well as in their case special lounges and car parks). Other airports have similar services on offer, either their own or contracted out. – jwenting Sep 5 '18 at 6:31
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If you're talking about what most people mean by "security clearance," which is a Confidential/Secret/Top Secret or Q/L DOE equivalents, then no. It has nothing whatsoever to do with TSA or CBP or their procedures. AFAIK there would be no way for them to easily verify if you even had one.

If the individual's job was a sworn law enforcement officer, they could opt to fly armed which would enable them to bypass some security procedures, but would require them to go through the paperwork for that.

Now, any individual can apply for TSA PreCheck, or the other programs that include it (Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST), which does involve a background check but is not at all the same as a "security clearance."

The only people who completely bypass security for the purpose of flying are foreign dignitaries under courtesy of the port, Secret Service protectees, and the like.

The people you saw were individuals with a SIDA/AOA access badge who work at the airport--you are not allowed to use the badge to board a passenger flight. They could be security, maintenance, mechanics, construction, facilities, wing walkers, baggage handlers, etc. People who just work in the shops have a Sterile Area badge that replaces the need for a boarding pass, but they still have to be screened. The flight crew uses a Known CrewMember portal which is separate from the normal checkpoint, but they're still subject to some screening.

Also, the TSA-operated security program only applies to scheduled, commercial passenger flights. While cargo and gen aviation do have security requirements, they are often far less strict than what you would expect at a normal airport.

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