04/29/2014 03:30 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Air Canada is first international carrier in U.S. expedited screening program

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Air Canada is the first international carrier to join in the U.S. government's PreCheck screening program, aimed at reducing the time spent on pre-boarding security checks of qualified passengers at some American airports.

Passengers in PreCheck lanes do not have to remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets and can keep liquids and laptops in their bags. Security agents are expected to process twice as many passengers in PreCheck lanes in the same time as in a normal lane.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.A) serves 49 U.S. airports, but passengers will only be able to use PreCheck at 41 of them as of Tuesday, when the airline joined nine U.S. carriers participating in the program.

Air Canada executive vice-president Benjamin Smith said the Montreal-based company is delighted to be the first international carrier to be able to offer the service.

"TSA PreCheck will make our customers’ travel experience with us even more enjoyable, including those connecting through our main hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to international destinations in Asia and Europe,” Smith said in a statement.

The program is open to some elite frequent fliers of U.S. airlines as well as the 2.4 million travellers in one of the Customs and Border Protection's expedited entry programs: Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has also started enrolling people directly in PreCheck through its own centres at 17 airports and 237 off-airport locations. Since it opened the application process in December, nearly 204,000 people have enrolled in the program which costs US$85 and is good for five years.

For now, Air Canada passengers who enrol can only use the program if they print or reprint their boarding passes at airport check-in desks or kiosks. Later this year, those printing boarding passes at home or using the airline's mobile app will also be included.

The TSA said expanding the PreCheck program to passengers on international airlines will allow the agency to dedicate more staff to other passengers — those who theoretically pose the higher risk.

The program was launched in October 2011 at four U.S. airports. Today, there are PreCheck lanes at 118 of the roughly 450 U.S. commercial airports, processing about five million passengers each week.

The government is also turning to foreign carriers to sign on to the program, to help ease checkpoint congestion. The airlines are responsible for paying for their computer upgrades, hence some of the hesitation.

Air Canada joins nine U.S. airlines who participate in the program: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America.