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 PreCheck?
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 PreCheck 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 PreCheck status.
What Are the Benefits of TSA PreCheck?
The largest benefit of PreCheck 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 PreCheck 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. The program is available in more than 180 airports by 19 airlines.
Also, your TSA PreCheck card can serve as a second form of government-issued ID. Since it showcases your photo, this extra benefit means you can take your passport and TSA card around town, leaving your driver’s license at your hotel. This offers many travelers peace in the event of ID loss or theft.
How to Enroll in TSA PreCheck
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.
You may need to travel to the closest city offering enrollment if you live in a rural area. You’ll want to identify your local enrollment center and make sure you can logistically keep the appointment 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 spend 45 minutes to an hour at the interview, as it’s not uncommon for the process to run 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 for this process can vary, but typically your clearance will arrive in the form of a letter in less than a month.
Cost of TSA PreCheck
The cost to apply for TSA PreCheck is $78 for five years at the time of publishing. You can expect to pay this 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 cards, money orders, cashier’s checks, or certified checks.
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 markup from the base price of the program.
Who Is Eligible for TSA PreCheck?
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. The process is straightforward for those who do quality; unlike other security programs, you don’t need a passport to apply for PreCheck.
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 review all available programs similar to TSA PreCheck. These programs include Sentri, NEXUS, Global Entry, and TSA PreCheck.
In addition, the following actions will disqualify you for consideration and could result in suspension (either permanent or temporary)from TSA PreCheck 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 on board an aircraft
Pro Travel Tips TSA PreCheck
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? 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 PreCheck 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!
To use your TSA PreCheck benefits, you’ll need to have your boarding pass reflect your status. There is no way to enter the PreCheck line at security without this, and showcasing your acceptance letter to a TSA agent won’t work, either. 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 your 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.