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Area air travelers to catch break

Anybody who has had to pay extra for luggage or an airport soft drink, who has lined up, de-shoed and un-belted, or wedged into a cramped seat in a crammed plane can attest to the fact that air travel has become a chore.

So it is heartening to see that federal agencies are trying to make traveling a little less onerous.

First, there was a fall announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration that rules for the use of electronic devices during flights would be relaxed. Now, the Transportation Security Administration is expanding — in a big way — its expedited screening program for low-risk fliers.

PreCheck has been around since October 2011, and about 100 airports offer the expedited lines. Although an expedited security check is not guaranteed, if you are pre-checked, there’s a good chance you can avoid pulling off the belt, shedding shoes and taking out the laptop.

But there’s been a huge Catch-22: Because of security concerns, you can’t simply apply for PreCheck online. You have to personally go to a processing center, talk to a TSA representative, be fingerprinted and show proof of citizenship or legal immigration in order to complete the application.

And there were processing centers in only four cities: New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Indianapolis. Recently, Nashville was added.

None, you’ll note, are close to D/FW International — the fourth-busiest airport in the country.

This newly announced expansion will place processing centers in 300 airports. D/FW is near the top of the expansion list and should have its center by the end of March.

That will make it much easier for North Texans who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and have not been convicted of crimes to become a “Trusted Traveler.” Getting your number will cost $85 and take two to three weeks; it is valid for five years.

Think of it as getting a passport for air travel.

Such an expansion is much needed for an airline industry that has struggled over the past decade.

With airlines merging and dropping routes, the recession and the inconvenience of post-9/11 security, U.S. air travel has taken a hit. The number of boardings at D/FW in 2012 (the most recent statistics available), for example, is still lower than 10 years ago.

Given all the extra inconveniences travelers face these days, anything that can make traveling easier — without compromising security — is a plus.

Beyond that, the TSA’s decision offers us hope that government isn’t totally impervious to common sense.

— The Dallas Morning News