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Originally published Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 12:05 PM

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Sea-Tac opens screening fast lane

PreCheck, an expedited security check for certain passengers, is now available at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Seattle Times travel writer

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"Couldn't stop smiling" is the way Amy Daly-Donovan described breezing through a security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Tuesday morning as she became one of the first Alaska Airlines passengers to use PreCheck, the Transportation Security Administration's new expedited-screening program for low-risk travelers.

"Escorted to a wide-open security lane," she said in an email on her way to New York on business. "Placed my fully packed bags on the belt. Didn't have to unzip a thing. Left my jacket and shoes on and breezed right on through."

Sea-Tac is the 13th U.S. airport to get the specially designated lane, part of a move by TSA toward what it calls "risk-based" security and away from a one-size-fits-all approach.

Passengers preapproved for the program — either through their airline or via membership in one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's "trusted traveler" programs — receive a boarding pass with an embedded bar code. TSA reads the bar code at a designated checkpoint — No. 5 in the north end of the terminal at Sea-Tac — then directs passengers to a special screening lane where most can leave on shoes, jackets and belts, and leave laptops and liquids in their carry-ons.

There will still be random security checks, so no guarantees, TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said at a news conference marking the opening of the PreCheck special lane at Sea-Tac, a lane normally reserved for premium frequent-flier members.

The program is still in a test phase so, for now, the only passengers eligible are those flying from Sea-Tac on Alaska Airlines who are either high-mileage frequent fliers invited by the airline to apply to the TSA for pre-approval or members of the Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri expedited boarding-crossing program run by U.S. Customs.

Alaska Airlines representatives celebrated Tuesday's start of PreCheck with balloons and cookies at a table set up in the main terminal, and passed out information on how U.S. citizens can apply for Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri though a program called GOES (https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes).

About 200 passengers passed through Sea-Tac's PreCheck by 9 a.m., but not everyone thought things went as smoothly as Daly-Donovan did.

With one lane dedicated to PreCheck only and another down due to a mechanical problem, some passengers who didn't qualify for expedited screening had to wait even longer than they might otherwise.

"The TSA people seemed confused and overwhelmed with the new procedures," Ilya Bukshteyn, of Kirkland, posted on Alaska Airlines' Facebook page. "Even though I'm an MVP Gold and a NEXUS and Global Entry member and had preregistered for Pre, I still somehow did not get into the Pre (Check) lane and had the longest wait I've ever had in security."

Portland International will be the next airport to get PreCheck, sometime in May. The test there will be the first airport where TSA will authorize three airlines — Delta, American and Alaska — to invite frequent fliers to apply. TSA plans to include 35 of the country's busiest airports in PreCheck by the end of the year.

A complete list of participating airports and airlines (so far only Delta, American and Alaska) is at www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/escreening.shtm. "Of course we'd like to add more airlines," said TSA's Dankers, "but right now we're focused on getting the 35 airports on track by the end of the year."

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @carolpucci.

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