Lately I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the TSA Pre-Check Program. I’m a slow walker, and although I don’t use a wheelchair I usually have problems going through security, as taking off my coat, taking out my laptop and putting my Ziploc bag of toiletries on the conveyor belt requires too much movement in too little time for me. How do I get TSA Pre-Check status, and is it really worth the cost?
TSA Pre-Check allows eligible travelers to forego the usual “strip-down” to go through the metal detector, and lets them keep their laptops and toiletries in their carry on bags. That’s a very good thing for everyone.
In theory you have to be a member of a trusted traveler program to participate in TSA Pre-Check; but the reality of the situation is that many people who have never applied for membership have the coveted “Pre-Check” logo turn up on their boarding pass. That logo allows them to go to the express screening line where nobody disrobes or empties their baggage. My sources tell me that this is because they have been fingerprinted at some time in life and are already in the system. So if that’s the case for you, you don’t need to apply for any trusted traveler program.
Additionally if you are already have a Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri card, you’re automatically in the Pre-Check group. The key is that you have to enter your trusted traveler number in your frequent flyer profile on the airline website, and you have to do this for each airline. As far as cost goes, I used my American Express Platinum card to pay for my Global Entry application fee, and American Express credited the $100 fee to my statement. So in essence I got it for free.
You can also be eligible for Pre-Check by paying an $85 fee and completing the application on the TSA website at universalenroll.dhs.gov/workflows?workflow=precheck-pre-enroll. Once you pass the background check, you will be called for an in-person interview to complete the process. Again, you need to update your frequent flyer program profiles to include your Pre-Check identification number.
Is it worth it? Well anything that makes things go faster at the airport is worth it in my book. Like I said, I have a Global Entry card, which allows me to bypass the long custom lines when I re-enter the US. And Global Entry qualifies me for TSA Pre-Check. And yes, I’m very happy with it.
There is one thing worth noting though. The TSA is very up front about their unpredictability, and they emphasize that they can and will incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout airports. The bottom line is, even if you have TSA Pre-Check status, you may still end up taking off your coat and digging through your carry-on for you laptop and Ziploc bag of toiletries. Basically we are all the mercy of the TSA.
In the end, I’ll take the gamble that the TSA will conduct business as usual. If Pre-Check status allows me to skip even half of the rigorous airport screenings, it’s well worth the time and money for me.