TSA PreCheck is the program that is allows trusted travelers the ability to move quickly through the TSA security lines. These are like the super-expedited lines, better than elite/first class security lines. The reason for it is that travelers do not need to take anything out of their carry-ons (like travel liquids, laptops, electronics, etc) or take off their belts, shoes, or light jackets. As one TSA officer said to me, it is like travel pre-9/11. While not quite like that (you still cannot take large containers of liquid through), it certainly does speed the security process.
When the program first opened, it was restricted to select frequent flyers in certain domestic programs. As the program expanded, it became available to all the airlines and included those individuals who were part of the Trusted Traveler program (for Global Entry and NEXUS program participants), even if they did not have elite status. Now, anyone can apply to be a part of the program. The application costs $85 and you are not guaranteed acceptance into the program (you may be denied based on the application or background check). The $85 is non-refundable. Of course, if you apply for Global Entry and receive that, you will automatically be enrolled into TSA PreCheck with your Known Traveler Number (KTN). The application fee for Global Entry is $100 but offers the expedited re-entry into the US at airports (read more about it here)
Since the program has opened for entry to the traveling masses, frequent travelers have noticed that the lines for PreCheck at participating airports are growing longer – especially at hub airports. On a recent trip from Chicago, I was in a line (waiting for the lane to open very early in the morning) of 40 travelers. The elite security line next to us (the line for elite travelers or those passengers traveling in business/first class) only had 4 people in it. I had access to the elite line as well, but I chose to stay in the PreCheck lane (granted, I was only number 3 in the PreCheck line). At the same time, I could have gone to the other side and the general security line and entered that (open) line. Why did I choose to wait in PreCheck and why didn’t it bother me?
If two security lines were equal and seemed to be moving at the same pace, I still prefer the PreCheck line. The reason is for the simplicity of getting through the line. I do not have to take off my clothing items (jacket, belt, shoes) and I do not have to take anything out of my bags. Even if my line was a bit slower, I am still inclined to choose this line because of the pure convenience. Not only that, but there are times that I travel with a lot of cables and such. When I am in a regular security line, I always have to have the bag go through again or be gone through by hand. When I go through the PreCheck line, my bag is never subjected to another scan or a personal search.
When traveling with my family, it is a huge convenience! When we were traveling through JFK last month, we all had TSA Pre on our boarding passes so went through that lane. Even though small children do not need to take of their shoes in the regular lines, it is still so helpful to just be able to throw bags on the belt and not worry about taking things out and putting back while managing the children through the area. Again, if the Pre line was longer than the regular line (which I have not had happen yet), I would still opt for the Pre line.
Why the lines are long
The biggest problem right now, and one of the reasons that the lines are getting longer, is that there are fewer machines and personnel working the Pre lines. So, even though passengers move through pretty fast, there is still the delay if someone is having trouble with a bag on the belt or something like that. With only one machine, everyone is held up. Part of that problem is that I am seeing passengers in the Pre line who seem to have no idea what it means for them and what to do. So, they begin to take their stuff off, which slows everything down, and ask what they need to take out, which is something they should know if they have applied the program. Fortunately, some airports are getting better about it and the agents are shouting out instructions to those in the Pre line. Hopefully, passengers will become more familiar with it.
How about you? Have you found that the lines are longer for you? Have you enjoyed the triple beep of TSA PreCheck yet? 🙂 For more information about joining the program and who can participate, check it out here.