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TSA Pre-Check – Have You Hit the Jackpot?

Like others annoyed familiar with air travel in the United States since 2001, you know you will go through airport security screening by the United States TSA (Transportation Security Administration). Your flight day check list goes something like this:

  • Make sure you bring a government issued photo I.D.
  • Wear socks with no holes
  • Wear slip on shoes (I hate you Shoe Bomber)
  • Don’t wear pants that require a belt to hold them up
  • Try to remember what 3-1-1 means:  (Oh yeah, I remember: make a mess pouring shampoo into a 3.5 ounce bottle; decide you can do without conditioner; remember you used your last quart size storage bag to freeze leftovers—defrost them, empty bag, rinse it out, try to use your hairdryer to dry the bag without melting it).
  • Pack the brief case you bought specifically so you can swiftly remove your computer to put in its own plastic bin
  • Wear an easily removed jacket or sweater and be OK with everyone else in the security line seeing what you don’t have on under it
  • Make your peace with going through a scanner (that may, or may not, cause cancer) that makes you appear naked to someone viewing your image in another room

TSA Pre-Check - Have You Hit the Jackpot?

As you approach the security line, you will be slightly ashamed for praying you don’t get stuck behind any of the following:

  • Families with 2 baby strollers, two squirming toddlers and diaper bags bulging with liquids
  • Someone who is staring at the prohibited items list as though they are seeing it for the first time and who is moving their lips while reading it
  • The Ding-a-ling who forgot he had a loaded Glock 33 semi-automatic pistol in his carry on suitcase.

In the first half of this year, my husband and I took 16 flights, six of which originated at an airport in the United States. For our last five flights, my boarding pass said “TSA PRECHK”. The first time I saw this, I was positive I was being singled out a strip search and special interrogation (hopefully, but not necessarily, without any “enhanced interrogation techniques”).

When I approached the first TSA agent (the one who compares the name and photo on your ID to your boarding pass), I asked what this cryptic message meant. She motioned me over to a screening station apart from the ones where my husband had to go. (Uh oh. First enhanced interrogation technique: separation from loved ones).

As I approached the belt for the items to be x-rayed, I reflexively started to kick off my shoes, but the smiling (“smiling” is not a typo) TSA agent told me I didn’t have to take off my shoes nor remove my jacket. I didn’t have to display my quart size, clear plastic 3-1-1 liquids bag nor remove my computer from my carry on. I just put it on the belt and walked through the magnetometer. I was through the TSA security check in about 30 seconds. Of course, I had to wait for the hubster who finally emerged some time later, wondering what had become of me.

For our next four flights, we both had the blessed “TSA PRECHK” on our boarding passes and had the “almost like flying in the good old days” treatment.

So, What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA Pre✓™  (Yes, it’s trademarked!) is a TSA initiative to provide expedited security screening to “low risk passengers”, currently available at more than 120 US airports. Passengers on the following 11 participating airlines are currently eligible for PreCheck if they meet the other criteria:

Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America

According to the TSA website, those eligible for TSA PreCheck eligibility include:

  • U.S. citizens of frequent flyer programs who meet TSA-mandated criteria and who have been invited by a participating airline. (I think this has been responsible for my hitting the TSA PreCheck bonanza on my last 5 flights.)
  • U.S. citizens with a Known Traveler Number (KTN).
  • U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents who are members of the TSA Pre✓™ application program.
  • U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler program, such as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI.
  • Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS.
  • Foreign citizens of select countries who are members of Global Entry (see Global Entry eligibility) and not registered as a U.S. lawful permanent resident.
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard.
  • Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard civilian employees.

Certain other passengers who don’t meet these criteria may be sent to the PreCheck expedited screening line based on “observation” by “trained” personnel that they appear low risk (supposedly based on observation of behavior, not “profiling”). (Hint: Don’t appear anxious in the security line. I’m not sure how they differentiate fear of flying from fear of having one’s bomb detected).

There is some static from people who paid $85 to be qualified for PreCheck. They are understandably annoyed that their “expedited” TSA security line is being lengthened by reprobates people (like moi) who didn’t pay the application fee and didn’t go through the hassle of the application process, but are being sprinkled with TSA pixie dust anyway .

My inclination is to think that TSA PreCheck is the best thing since sliced bread, but I have read some thought provoking commentary about some downsides of the program.

Have you gone through the TSA PreCheck application process? Are you routinely selected for TSA PreCheck (without the formal application process) or are you routinely not selected? What do you think of the program?

Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Suzanne Fluhr, Midlife Boulevard's travel editor, is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer, empty nester, wanderer, dog person and Zentangle® enthusiast. She also writes about Baby Boomer travels for the body and mind on her personal blog, Boomeresque. Instagram: Boomeresque2

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Monday 5th of January 2015

Great article and thank you, Suzanne :)

Robin M

Thursday 25th of December 2014

This was an excellent commentary. The last time I traveled by plane was pre-9/11 in June of that year. I was amazed at how easy it was for ANYONE to get on a plane through curb-side check-in. My bag was taken directly from the car on a porter's rack, ticketed and off it went! There was an C-ray line for smaller carry ons. The gentleman in front of me had a high speed film camera and was allowed to pass it to a guard on the other side of the monitor by lifting it over the bridge. Who knows what was in the camera? It wasn't checked for possible bomb-rigging. Though the new process seems like a pain, I'm glad the government is on top of things. I do feel safer knowing that people are being thoroughly checked. I wonder how bomb-sniffing dogs would work?

Doreen Pendgracs

Friday 19th of December 2014

Great post! Yes, I am a Canadian with Nexus and have been TSA Pre-Checked on a couple recent flights. Definitely helps speed things up!

Eddie Resendes

Friday 19th of December 2014

Very Very funny,

Roz Warren

Friday 19th of December 2014

Reading this, I noticed that the ad alongside was for a Concealed Carry Report which I could order so that I'd "know my rights." Perhaps it was your mention of that Glock? I certainly hope that my rights don't include being able to carry a Glock onto a airplane. But I'm not going to order that report.

Suzanne Fluhr

Friday 19th of December 2014

Google ad words is amazing.

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