TSA PreCheck Becomes Actually Useful, and Not Merely Awesome

Computer doesn’t have to come out of the case (mine doesn’t normally, since I use a bag the TSA permits through the screener as-is anyway). Liquids don’t have to come out (I rarely take mine out anywway). Shoes stay on (hallelujah!) And most significantly, perhaps, there’s usually no line and even if there was the lack of a security theatre drill, let alone nude-o-scope to opt out of, means things move very quickly.

TSA’s PreCheck is like going through airport security before airport security was federalized. It’s a humane process. Not quite as civilized as going through security screening in Lufthansa’s first class terminal, perhaps (the screeners there assist me with my jacket). But it’s still… civilized, almost.

But even though PreCheck makes airport security so much faster to go through, I’ve argued that it’s actually useless because you never know in advance (without hacking the boarding pass, at least) whether or not you’re going to get to use it. And that means you still have to arrive at the airport early as though you won’t. So you get through security faster, only to have more time to kill on the other side int he gate area or airport lounge.

The argument, I guess, was that if you told terrorists in advance (you know, the people trusted enough to be given PreCheck in the first place!) that they wouldn’t have to take their shoes off that might encourage them to do somethng really bad. Like wear lace ups. And so the most awesome innovation in airport security since August, 2001 was hobbled.

It seems that limitation is changing, though, and according to Delta Points, Delta at least has been given permission to display on a boarding pass whether or not the person is eligible for PreCheck on a given trip. So when you check in (e.g. on your mobile or at home as much as 24 hours out) you will know if you qualify — and can make a judgment about whether to leave the airport later, not leaving a security buffer.

Of course being eligible for PreCheck doesn’t mean you’ll actually get it, the TSA reserves the right to deny it even when the three beeps happen when your boarding pass is scanned. And I’ve shown up in Miami only to find PreCheck inexplicably closed.

But this is still huge progress.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Interesting development.

    The other side seems to be that, at least from a sample size of one, they are handing out Global Entry and Pre-Check to just about anyone. I interviewed at IAD for GE last weekend and overheard an officer saying that they had 7000 interviews on the books already at Dulles. So clearly, they’re not keeping this to just the uber-elite of international road warriors (the fact that I was given GE confirms this). And, while one might argue that GE membership still constitutes a very small percentage of people, one might also wonder if this will change if pre-check becomes more useful as you described. Frame the value proposition as, “If you have no criminal history, you can skip the lines for 5 years for $100”, and I’d think you would get the attention of even the most occasional of travelers.

    The question is just how much market penetration GE/precheck will get before they decide they need to change the rules – either stop handing them out like hotcakes or take away some privileges that come with membership.

  2. It is not at all clear from what DL has communicated if this means that you’ve actually been selected for three beeps that day or just are eligible to go to the PreCheck line to see if you won the lottery. I wouldn’t get too excited until we find out more, like someone who is eligible not getting it printed on their boarding pass.

  3. Two comments:

    1) @CW: Nothing in any of the GE/NEXUS literature *anywhere* has ever said they intended on keeping those programs reserved only for the uber-elite road warriors. They have always (AFAIK) been open for anyone to apply for.

    2) @Gary: You say, “the TSA reserves the right to deny it even when the three beeps happen when your boarding pass is scanned.” I think TSA is just saying this to cover their butts if a glitch happens and you don’t get PreCheck that day. There is absolutely no data in any of the reports on FT or elsewhere that TSA has denied anyone access to PreCheck who has gotten the “3” in their boarding pass barcode.

  4. Mitch it does seem clear to me from the statement and otherwise they would be communicating merely the status quo.

  5. @Jackal not sayinh they do deny it but they promise nothing and do reserve to right to (do pretty much whatever they wish) … which I agree is CYA

  6. I’ve been doing GE for years and Precheck since it was available. Obviously if you get Precheck it’s great as you just walk through the metal detector.

    But it’s great even if you don’t. Showing my NEXUS card and BP at the TSA Pre-check checkpoint any time speeds up the security process, since (in DEN and LAX, anyway) if you don’t get pre-check you *do* get dumped into the regular security screening at the front of the line. I returned from NZ the other day and skipped in front of (literally) hundreds of people waiting to clear security.

  7. Between SFO-LAX on AA, I get thru precheck about 9/10. It has been a major improvement in my travel schedule. And as you say, since (for now) there’s no one else in the TSAPrecheck line, even if you don’t get “approved”, you jump the whole queue. Splendid. Not quite “as good as air travel used to be”, but better than now. AND, I note, most TSA precheck lines don’t use the backscatter scanners, so you miss out on a dose of xrays. This is good.

  8. For what it is worth, every once in a while on my United boarding passes (printed at home the day before, or so — yes yes I know I am a troglodyte for not using my smartphone), the Pre-Check-approved logo and wording appears. Seems entirely random: sometimes there is no such logo but when I reach the airport I am cleared for Pre-Check. Now I know I will REALLY get in trouble for the following, because it reinforces my dinosaur status, but if I do NOT have the logo on my pre-printed boarding passes, when I show up to the airport and IF I have time, I REPRINT them (yes yes I am killing trees), it DOES appear.

    I interpret all this confusion in possibly two ways: a) “they” are gearing up to make the Pre-Check approval process more predictable or b) I gotta stop drinking.

  9. @CW The wait time for GE interviews in Chicago (downtown, not O’Hare) are fantastic. I got my notification on Monday and was able to schedule an interview for this afternoon. I am looking forward to enjoying GE and Precheck and recommend not going the airport interview route, if you have that option..

  10. @Becky – thanks for the advice, but I’ve already gotten my GE approved and done with. My point wasn’t that the waits were long for the interview (I waited only 2 weeks), but that they are giving out GE (and thus pre-check) left and right, and that, if it becomes a nontrivial portion of the population that has it, it’s going to cause a paradigm shift with respect to how they do security.

  11. Hey–do we know what the criteria is for being invited to opt-in by your airline? I’m lifetime gold on AA, but never got a check-in box, so thinking it might be geared more towards Plat/Exec. Plat. If not offered through the airline, is there a preference between applying through Global Entry or Nexus to try to get TSA pre-check anyway? Thanks!

  12. I’ve had hit or miss with being TSAPre but almost always the TSA rep gives good suggestions to move your through faster. A few weeks ago at DFW he told me to go on the opposite side of the people to get by faster. He asked me if I was in a rush and I told him no I am just hungry. They seem to be pretty good if they know you fly a lot.

  13. I suspect it’s just about closing a loophole. See the comment above about passengers who are denied PreCheck getting to jump to the front of the regular line and consider how that might be exploited.

  14. Sadly neither of these systems (GE and Pre) are available to regular US visitors/fliers who aren’t US residents – I wish they’d open then up to us! I must say I don’t see quite what the problem is with the millimetre wave scanners, no issue when passing through them recently, although wish there was a more European shoes off only if asked policy…

  15. If the random pre-check screening is for extra security (which I think is dumb), it’s completely illogical that the TSA will now show if you have pre-check or not. Either get rid of the random screening completely (preferred) or keep the pre-check status a mystery. #TSAfail

  16. I am thinking that Delta has stopped adding the PreCheck approval to preprint boarding passes in the last 2 weeks. I have made 6 delta flights in 2 weeks and no notice printed. I have been eligible for over a year and the added notices were helpful, but lately they have gone away.

  17. @Big T: I got one as recently as 20 May, and on an international itinerary at that. Sadly, was flying out of OMA, which is probably the smallish airport that could most benefit from PreCheck. Well, that or just a TSA supervisor who can read flight schedules and anticipate peak times. Always a battle to get two X-rays open even at peak times.

  18. I travel weekly and PreCheck is amazing. The question of whether they are handing it out left and right is a bit silly. I suppose if we look at statistics as to who is a risk, it would be an extremely small percentage of the population. I would assume it is also only a very small percentage of people that would be denied GE. Of those who are scanned what percentage of individuals have actually been denied access. Also very small. I hope GE is doing the right job. Any security risk is a moving target and any measure to identify those individuals is also a moving target. The measures are probably more of deterrent. If someone truly wants to get around security they will find a way.

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