What is TSA PreCheck?
One of the most enduring results of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is the security screening at United States airports. Most of us who travel by air are aware of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security screening. However, unless you are a frequent flyer, you may not know the details of the TSA PreCheck program.
I remember the first time I saw “TSA PRECHK” printed on my boarding pass. I felt positive TSA singled me out for a strip search and special interrogation.
When I approached the first TSA agent, I asked what this cryptic message meant. She motioned me over to a screening line apart from where my husband had to go. Uh oh. First enhanced interrogation technique: separation from loved ones.
What Happens When You Get TSA PreCheck
Near the x-ray belt, I reflexively started to kick off my shoes. The TSA agent smiled at me (that’s not a typo). Surprisingly, she told me I could keep on my shoes and my jacket. Also, I didn’t have to remove my computer or ziploc bag of toiletries from my carry on. I just put my bags on the belt and walked through the magnetometer.
I finished the security check in about 30 seconds. Of course, I had to wait for my husband who finally emerged some time later and wondered what had become of me. (Had he been a child of 12 or under, he could have had expedited screening with me).
Since then, more often than not, we both have the blessed “TSA PRECHK” on our boarding passes and experience the “almost like flying in the good old days” treatment.
How Do I Get TSA PreCheck?
PreCheck is a TSA initiative to provide expedited security screening to “low risk passengers”, currently available at over 180 United States airports for customers of 30 airlines that have partnered with TSA. These are subject to update.
To check whether your airline and airport participates in the TSA PreCheck program, use this interactive map and airline list.
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 is why I usually score TSA PreCheck).
- Citizens of the U.S. with a Known Traveler Number (KTN).
- U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents approved by the the TSA Pre✓™ application program.
- Citizens of the U.S. who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler program, such as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. (Tip: If you travel internationally, you should probably apply for the Global Entry program which presently costs $100, only $15 more than the TSA PreCheck application.)
- 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 who serve in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard.
- Finally, Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard civilian employees.
Are There Other Ways to Get TSA PreCheck?
Certain other passengers who don’t meet these criteria perhaps are sent to the PreCheck expedited screening line based on “observation” by “trained” personnel. The criterion is that the passenger appears low risk. This is 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 bomb detection. Conversely, some passengers are randomly searched even though they have TSA PreCheck status.
TSA PreCheck lines are not always open at checkpoints. The TSA website provides a schedule list for when and at what terminals TSA Precheck lanes are open. I have not personally relied on the website for this purpose, so I cannot personally vouch for its accuracy.
If you paid the $85 TSA PreCheck application fee to attain TSA PreCheck status for five years, you are perhaps annoyed that “expedited” TSA security lines are lengthened by
reprobates people like moi. We didn’t pay the application fee. Also, we didn’t go through the hassle of the TSA PreCheck application process. We are just the lucky passengers sprinkled with TSA PreCheck pixie dust anyway.
More Info about TSA PreCheck
Despite TSA’s checkered reputation, the TSA webiste is quite helpful. In addition to some of the links I’ve provided above, there is a FAQ that addresses general security screening questions, Also, here is a FAQ specific to TSA PreCheck.
You can start the PreCheck application process online. It’s a good idea to check it if you don’t follow aviation news, so you are aware of the latest security screening requirements.
TSA PreCheck is the best thing since sliced bread, but some express privacy concerns. You are fingerprinted and subjected to a background check as part of the application process. Alas, the expectation of privacy boat sailed some time ago in the Digital Age.