How to Get a Faster Airport Security Experience with TSA PreCheck

The TSA PreCheck program keeps growing – it’s now available at more than 115 U.S. airports – and I keep getting questions about it. Many ask how they can participate and the good news is, it’s easier than ever. Here are seven questions.

1. What is “faster” security?

PreCheck is essentially a pre-9/11 security experience:

  • Passengers go through metal detectors
  • Shoes, jackets and belts stay on
  • Laptops remain in cases
  • Zip-bagged toiletries can stay in carry-on bags

Note: You will have to remove heavy winter coats, or fashionable heels with a lot of metal work on them.

2. Is PreCheck always faster?

Usually, but every now and then you run into a PreCheck novice who doesn’t quite get the idea and may gum up the works by taking off their shoes. Others fear that if too many join – and some think this is already happening – PreCheck lines will be difficult to tell from the “slow” lanes. All I can tell you is I usually find PreCheck quite speedy (and I fly a lot). The TSA meanwhile says it’s adding PreCheck-dedicated lanes to several airports.

3.  Does it cost to join PreCheck?

Elite flyers are issued invitations by their airlines allowing them to participate in PreCheck for free. Otherwise, it will cost you – but not much. Here are the two ways to join:

Note: Both fees are good for five year memberships. However, the $85 PreCheck cost gets you fast security for domestic travel only, while Global Entry includes returns into the U.S. from international flights.

4. How do I sign up?

Sign up for PreCheck here. Once you fill out the relatively simple application, you make an appointment to visit an enrollment center. During this visit, you will be interviewed and fingerprinted. Enrollment centers are located throughout the U.S. and in several airports (including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York’s JFK and LaGuardia as well as Washington Dulles). Note: Some airport offices require you to be a ticketed passenger so you may want to make an appointment just before or after a flight.

6. Is joining PreCheck the only way to get faster security?

It’s the only way to get it on a consistent basis, but from time to time, the TSA randomly selects flyers from the slow lanes and puts them in the PreCheck line. I’ve heard that some who’ve paid for this privilege aren’t real happy about that but again, it is random so no one can count on this VIP treatment without formally joining PreCheck.

7. So PreCheck means never having to worry about slow security again?

Not necessarily. Three important facts:

  • Not every airport has PreCheck
  • Not every airport with PreCheck has PreCheck lanes at every entrance (to find PreCheck entrances, check the TSA app or Google TSA entrance and your three letter airport code such as DFW for Dallas, LAX for Los Angeles, etc.).
  • There are no guarantees when it comes to PreCheck. As the TSA has suggested, in order to keep the bad guys off balance, they will “always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport.”

But usually, yes – if you sign up for PreCheck – you will get a faster security experience.


Published: March 6, 2014