WASHINGTON -- More than half the people passing through U.S. airports now receive preferential security treatment because they pose no clear threat to aviation safety, federal officials say.
The shift has significantly reduced the lines at security checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration, reflecting the goal of TSA Administrator John Pistole to move away from a "one-size-fits-all" approach to screening passengers.
For years, the TSA faced criticism from Congress, the travel industry and fliers for giving the same scrutiny to grandmothers, toddlers, airline pilots, soldiers and other seemingly harmless passengers that it gives everyone else.
When Pistole arrived at TSA four years ago, he began a shift to an intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to keeping terrorists off airplanes. He also sought to reduce waiting time at security checkpoints.
Recent data show long waits of 20 minutes or more have been reduced by 64 percent, according to the agency.
Those reductions have been achieved by exempting more than half of all passengers from the cumbersome level of attention that everyone received in the past.
Members of the military and passengers younger than 12 or older than 75 are among those now routed to special lines that don't require shoe, belt or jacket removal or taking laptops out of cases.
TSA's PreCheck program allows prequalified passengers to use the same lines, and randomly selected fliers not enrolled in the program are sent to those lines, too.
Also, Global Entry provides international passengers with a "trusted traveler" number that they can provide airlines when they buy tickets, allowing them to use the faster lines.