TSA PreCheck at DFW Airport lacks equipment for medical passengers

- DALLAS -- Fox 4 uncovered a shortage of screening equipment causing costly delays at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The problem involves TSA PreCheck, a Transportation Security Administration program designed to expedite screening for passengers who pass government background checks. For an $85 fee, pre-screened passengers receive five years of benefits, including screening through dedicated PreCheck lanes and the option of keeping their shoes on and their liquids and laptops inside their luggage.

Grapevine resident Christy Tull flies through DFW three to four times a week for work. She signed up for PreCheck to save valuable time.

“For a frequent traveler, [PreCheck] is the world,” Tull said.

Tull soon discovered, however, PreCheck is more of a pain than a perk for her at DFW airport. That’s because she has a pacemaker and can’t go through a traditional metal detector.

Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), commonly referred to as body scanners, are the fastest alternative, but they aren't available at Tull’s primary terminals: A and C.

DFW airport only has enough body scanners to equip two out of five PreCheck lanes: one in Terminal E, which Tull doesn’t fly out of, and another at international Terminal D.

LINK: DFW Terminal Map

After Tull filed her first formal complaint in 2013, the TSA offered a few options:

  • Go through a full pat down in the PreCheck lane.
  • Go through a regular screening lane and keep her shoes on. She would still need to take her laptop and liquids out.
  • Go through the PreCheck lane with a body scanner in Terminal D and take the Skylink tram or walk across the airport back to Terminal A or C.

Tull believes the TSA is discriminating against her for a medical disability.

“You wouldn't tell someone in a wheelchair, you can cross the freeway, enter in the other building and come back here because we're not going to put a wheelchair ramp out for you,” Tull argued. “But that is exactly what they're saying."

Tull estimates she loses two hours a week or about 100 hours a year. That's equal to two-and-a-half work weeks.

Since 2013, Tull has filed a total of four complaints with the TSA and a complaint to the Department of Justice. As of January 2015, nothing has changed at DFW airport.

Brian East is a senior attorney at Disability Rights Texas, the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas.

Fox 4 asked East, “Is it discrimination for the TSA to refuse PreCheck benefits to people with pacemakers?” and “Would a private business be able to get away with something like this?”

East explained, in general, “a private business has to provide the same service to someone with a disability that they would for everyone else.”

The key is a reasonable accommodation needs to be available.

At DFW Airport’s Terminal C, where the PreCheck and regular screening lines are next to each other, Fox 4 saw a potential solution.

It appeared that PreCheck passengers with medical devices could share a body scanner with the regular line.

A TSA spokesperson didn't want to answer our questions on camera, instead saying in e-mail that the TSA’s focus is on security.

In a statement, the TSA also said:

“TSA PreCheck enables trusted travelers to experience expedited security screening, but passengers are not guaranteed screening with any specific type of equipment. In addition, as stated on the agency’s website, TSA incorporates unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no passenger is guaranteed expedited screening.”

“I'm not asking for any less security, I'm asking for the right equipment," Tull said.

Fox 4 could not find any information on TSA.gov or the DFW Airport site explaining what equipment is at each PreCheck location. This lack of information leaves medical device passengers in the dark about what's available where.

“I paid for it, qualified for it,” Tull said. “I just want to be able to use it."

East pointed out a problem with cases like this. Even if Tull won a lawsuit against the TSA, the federal government is immune from paying monetary damages. As a result, it would be difficult to find a private attorney willing to take on the case.

Fox 4 also uncovered DFW Airport has the worst-equipped PreCheck lanes among the nation’s five busiest airports (based on passenger traffic in 2014).

1. Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

  • PreCheck lanes with body scanner = 12
  • PreCheck lanes without body scanner = 3

2. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)

  • PreCheck lanes with body scanner = 14
  • PreCheck lanes without body scanner = 4

3. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

  • PreCheck lanes with body scanner = 5
  • PreCheck lanes without body scanner = 5

4. Los Angeles (LAX)

  • PreCheck lanes with body scanner = 14
  • PreCheck lanes without body scanner = 4

5. Denver (DEN)

  • PreCheck lanes with body scanner = 6
  • PreCheck lanes without body scanner = 4

A body scanner costs $130,000, but the TSA says it has no plans right now to buy any new equipment for DFW airport.

 

TSA PreCheck Fast Facts

  • Total PreCheck enrollment: More than 1.78 million
  • Total PreCheck passengers screened at DFW aiport: 2,647,137 (January 1 to October 31, 2015)
  • Cost: $85 for five years

LINKS

This story came to Fox 4 via e-mail. Send your story tips and ideas to iteam@kdfwfox4.com.

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