This convenient, time-saving option greatly reduces the hassle of domestic airport travel for frequent flyers and even those who only take the occasional trip.
What is TSA Pre Check?
The program is designed to expedite the process of passing through airport security. Though it was originally available only to frequent fliers of certain airlines, TSA expanded the program in 2013, making it available to all US citizens.
TSA Pre-Check is designed for US citizens who fly primarily within the contiguous United States. In exchange for a small fee and a brief screening process, the federal government will run a few extra security checks on you for clearance. Once approved, you’re granted TSA Pre-Check status.
What are the benefits of TSA Pre Check?
The largest benefit of pre-check is the additional freedoms you’ll receive as you move through the often congested security lines at the airport. These freedoms include:
- The ability to leave your shoes on
- No need to remove your laptop from its bag
- No need to show your liquids outside of your bag
- No need to remove your belt
- No need to remove your jacket
In addition, the TSA authority touts certain goals or promises to those traveling with pre-check that can be very valuable to you, especially if you’re a frequent flyer. These benefits include s security wait time of 5 minutes or less, as reported by 97% of Pre-Check flyers. Wait times are supervised by TSA staff 24 hours a day at their national headquarters in Arlington, VA. If a line begins to get congested, officials will know and work to reduce congestion within hours. Furthermore, the program is available in more than 180 airports by 19 airlines, meaning that your fast pass through security will serve you pretty much wherever you fly.
How to enroll in TSA Pre Check
Enrollment is incredibly simple and quick. The process begins when you submit an online questionnaire, available here. This form, which can typically be completed in about 5-10 minutes, generally gathers background information about you. Once you’ve completed the form you will be prompted to schedule an in-person appointment. These are conducted at TSA enrollment centers in cities across the US.
With nearly 400 enrollment centers nationwide, chances are you won’t have to go far to your nearest location. You can find the closest enrollment center by using the TSA’s website and the locator tool, found here; search by zip code, airport code, or city name
If you live in a rural area, you may need to travel to the closest city offering enrollment. You’ll want to identify your local enrollment center and make sure that you can logistically keep the appointment that you make, as these appointments fill up fast and canceling could significantly delay your Pre-Check clearance.
The in-person interview is a quick process, often lasting ten minutes or less. Typically you’ll be asked about your travel behavior and asked to confirm the facts you provided in your online application. You’ll also be asked to submit to a background check and volunteer your fingerprints. While the screening process is quick, you should plan on spending 45 minutes to an hour at the interview, as it’s not uncommon for the process to be running late or behind schedule.
Once the information is processed and your payment has been received, you will receive your official TSA approval and be able to begin using the accelerated lines at the airport. The timeline on this process can vary greatly depending on demand, but typically your clearance will arrive in the form of a letter in less than a month.
The cost to apply for TSA Pre-check is $85 at time of publishing. This is the cost you can expect to pay if you file for consideration through the federal government. This fee cannot be waived, as it covers the cost of the required background testing, identification verification, administrative costs, and fingerprinting. Forms of payment accepted include major credit card, money order, cashier’s check, or certified check.
A word of caution: you might encounter third party companies offering to help you with your application process. In these instances you can expect to pay a notable mark up from the base price of the program.
While most Americans will qualify, certain individuals will not be considered eligible for acceptance, such as those with a criminal past, who are on a national terrorist watch list, or who demonstrate certain behavioral or health concerns. For those who do quality, the process is simple and straightforward; and unlike other security programs, you don’t need a passport to apply for Pre-Check.
Many foreign citizens are also eligible to participate, so long as they meet certain pre-determined citizenship and residency requirements. The best way to determine your eligibility is to begin by reviewing all of the programs available that are similar to TSA Pre-Check. These programs include Sentri, NEXUS, Global Entry, and TSA Pre-Check. A full list of the different program options is available for review, here.
In addition, the following actions will disqualify you for consideration, and could result in suspension (either permanent or temporary)from TSA Pre-Check eligibility:
- Interference with security operations
- Access control violations
- Providing false or fraudulent documents
- Making a bomb threat
- Bringing a firearm, explosive, or other prohibited item to an airport or onboard an aircraft
Most international airports have an interviewing location on the property. Why not schedule your interview for the next time you’ll be at the airport anyway? Do note that these offices are typically pre-security checkpoints, so you’ll want to schedule enough time to make it through security following your interview. While you won’t be able to use TSA Pre-Check on the day of your interview, it may be the last time you have to wait in a traditional security line at your home airport!
In order to use your TSA Pre-Check benefits, you’ll need to have your boarding pass reflect your status. There is no way to enter the Pre-Check line at security without this, and showcasing your acceptance letter at a TSA agent won’t work, either. In order to have your status reflected on your boarding pass, you’ll need to provide your “Known Traveler Number” or “KTN” during booking. This number can also be added after booking but before check-in, if you book your flights before your clearance arrives. You will find you known traveler number in the upper left-hand corner of the back of your card.
Not all flights qualify for PreCheck benefits. Your ability to use your status to speed through security will depend on if your chosen airline works with the program. At the time of publishing, the following airlines participate in the TSA-Pre-Check program:
Your TSA Pre-Check card can serve as a second form of government-issued ID. Since it showcases your photo, this extra benefit means that you can take just your passport and TSA card with you around town, leaving your driver’s license at your hotel. This offers many travelers a feeling of peace in the event of ID loss of theft.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does TSA Pre-Check work with International travel?
You can use your Pre-Check benefits when flying from an approved domestic airport (on a participating airline) to an international destination.
- Do children need to obtain their own TSA Pre-Check status if traveling with an adult who has TSA Pre-Check?
No, children 12 and under may use the Pre-Check lane with their guardian. Children 13 and above will need their own Pre-Check approval however, or else they will need to use the standard security line no matter their parent’s status.
Additional Details & Global Entry
With more than 4 million Americans already enrolled in this program, TSA’s Pre-Check is a trusted and thriving way to enhance your airport experience. This is exciting news, but it comes with a potential drawback. Appointments for interviews fill up quickly, often many months in advance. If you think Pre-Check is something you want to have for your next vacation, you shouldn’t delay. It’s important to fill out paperwork and schedule your interview right away.
Global Entry is a similar program to Pre-Check that offers the additional feature of speedier entry times to the US from foreign countries. Offered for just $15 more, or $100 for a 5-year pass, this program is operated and screened by US Customs and Border Protection. You can learn more about Global Entry here.