Why you may not need your boarding pass to get through airport security

Mar 2, 2020

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Getting through airport security is 0% fun said absolutely everyone everywhere.

However, there are ways to make the process easier. Yes, having TSA PreCheck absolutely helps, but it’s not the only way to make the security process a little bit better. Simply reducing the number of things you must dig out of your purse, wallet or backpack to display to TSA (while dragging your bags, holding onto your kids and trying to not slow up the line behind you), helps, too.

While those who use Clear are already used to the streamlined process of just showing your boarding pass to get through the security process, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been doing some different streamlining of its own.

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Select airports and security checkpoints around the country now have TSA credential authentication technology (CAT). The portable CAT machines help speed travelers through security a bit faster since TSA officials will simply scan your photo ID and send you on your way. No need to show your boarding pass.

I’ve been encountering this technology at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) since 2019, and while it was a shock at first to keep my boarding pass packed away, it’s very handy to have one less thing to manage in your hands. As a TSA agent told me at CLT when I was visibly surprised to not display my boarding pass, “We have all the info we need to know about you right here.”

Related: The most stressful parts of travel — and how to fix them

Why don’t you have to show a boarding pass at some airport?

The TSA is using portable scanners that are programmed to recognize and process 2,500 different types of identification — from U.S. passports and U.S. passport cards to driver’s licenses to Real ID to Federal personal identity and more. For TSA officers, the machine helps them quickly recognize valid, expired or fraudulent IDs.

The CAT verified that this license has expired. (Photo courtesy of the TSA)
The CAT verified that this license has expired. (Photo courtesy of the TSA)

The unit also seamlessly connects to the Secure Flight database, which confirms information like an individual’s travel date, airline and flight number, making a boarding pass simply not necessary.

Finally, the scanner can identify other screening benefits you’re eligible for, such as TSA PreCheck. Note that you’ll still need to check in to your flight and show your boarding pass or mobile board app to your airline’s gate agent prior to boarding your aircraft. Also note that this is different than those airports, such as Tampa (TPA) and Seattle (SEA), that don’t require travelers to have a boarding pass to enter the airport.

What airports have CAT units?

If you travel through major airports like Boston Logan International, Miami International and Phoenix Sky Harbor, you may have seen this new scanner in action before.

Here are a few of the U.S. airports that have confirmed their implementation of credential authentication technology for at least some of the security checkpoints:

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

According to the TSA, it plans to mobilize 500 CAT units at more than 40 American airports by the end of February 2020. Each CAT scanner costs $27,000 so this is a significant investment aimed at more effectively verifying the identity of individuals and at the same time making the security screening process faster, which is a goal we very much support.

Related: Best credit cards for getting TSA PreCheck

Additional reporting by Andrea Rotondo

Featured image courtesy of Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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