Something unexpected happened earlier this week when I arrived at LAX for my flight to Washington, D.C. Two lines diverged in Terminal 3, where a TSA staffer held an iPad with what purported to be a random selector. It generated an arrow pointing right or left. I stood for a moment looking down one line as far as I could. But I'd been selected for the other. At the split, it looked just as good. And soon I saw that I'd been directed to the line less traveled. That made all the difference.
The line was much shorter, for starters. Then a TSA staffer handed me a bright green flier. It informed me that I'd been randomly selected into TSA Pre✓™, but just for the day. In fact, my status was only valid inside Terminal 3 at LAX. This confused me at the time. I'd always thought, as the TSA web site puts it, that "TSA Pre✓™ helps strengthen security by identifying low-risk individuals through pre-screening. This allows TSA to focus resources on travelers about whom we know less, while providing the most effective security in the most efficient way."
But I wasn't pre-screened. I'd been directed into TSA Pre✓™ by what purported to be a random arrow generator.
What did this mean?
Well, they used that fancy machine to test my hands for explosive residue. And then, once I passed the test, I got to go through security without removing my shoes, taking my laptop out of my backpack, or putting my stuff in trays. Everything could stay in my bags. So dignifying! Also, I got to walk through a metal detector instead of a naked scanner. It was much like pre-9/11 airport security, except that after the metal detector they tested my hands for explosives again. I tried to keep the bright green flier as I walked away, but they insisted on taking it back.