This past week I arrived at Chicago’s Midway Airport and was informed the President would be in town with a TFR (temporary flight restriction) in place the entire weekend – including when I planned to depart Saturday morning. I quickly experienced the “looks like I’ll be stuck here” feeling then the CSR at Atlantic Aviation mentioned there was a gateway procedure in effect that would allow me to still depart following a TSA security check. Apparently, these TSA gateway procedures aren’t implemented often, but when the President is going to be in the same area for multiple days they try to put them in place. I was relieved, but still didn’t know what to expect, so thought I’d share the experience with you.
At least 24 hours before the planned flight, you need to call a local TSA number to get a departure reservation (though they later told me they try to accommodate even last minute requests whenever possible). They ask your name, tail number, passengers, etc. It’s a quick and easy process. Surprisingly, they don’t ask for your social security number, pilot’s license number or any real identifying information. I then filed a flight plan just like normal, no special codes or anything required.
I arrived Saturday morning at 10:30am and was met by three TSA agents in a conference room they’d set up at the Atlantic Aviation FBO. I was scanned with a metal detector wand while another agent inspected my bags. A third agent ran a quick background check on the computer system using my driver’s license. Again, no social security number, pilots license nor anything else was needed. The process took all of three minutes. After that was complete, an agent walked out to the plane with me and took a quick look inside, then photographed the aircraft. He advised me that he would give the tower and TRACON a call to confirm that I’d been cleared by the TSA for the flight.
The entire process took a total of less than 10 minutes, including the long walk to the plane. I found the TSA agents to be polite, professional and very friendly. While I initially didn’t know what to expect, the process was no where near as burdensome nor bureaucratic as I’d anticipated. These folks did a good job and made the security experience go very smoothly.
My A-game was in full effect for my departure knowing there were surely lots of eyeballs watching me. ATC procedures were just like any other flight leaving the busy Chicago airspace. A few minutes later, I’d departed the TFR and was safely on my way home to see my two little boys for the weekend!