TSA PreCheck Just Got Better — and How to Get it Free

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Airport security lines have become insufferably long. It’s costing both passengers(who can wait for hours at peak times) and airlines (when passengers miss flights and their seats aren’t used efficiently, plus they have unhappy customers).

While airlines are spending some money on the problem, Delta bought into CLEAR and American is adding staff to improve queues, overall airlines just want the government to spend more or security rather than fixing airport security.

While TSA PreCheck is no guarantee of a fast airport security experience, it’s usually a reliable way to get through in minutes rather than tens of minutes let alone an hour. And it’s just improved.

TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Tocqueville)

Getting PreCheck and Expedited Immigration

Global Entry is fantastic skipping the immigration and customs queues when you return to the U.S.

I didn’t love the fingerprinting or background check that went along with it, but I figured all my cell phone data was being logged anyway long before Edward Snowden was cool. So if the surveillance was inevitable I figured I might as well at least get the convenience.

Now that I have it, it’s hard to imagine life without it — and not just queuing up at immigration, but also that I always get PreCheck at TSA now rather than having it be hit-or-miss through my airline elite status.

Signing up for PreCheck just gets you expedited airport security ($85). Signing up for Global Entry gets you expedited immigration and PreCheck ($100). Nexus gets you the benefits of Global Entry and PreCheck and also gets you expedited immigration into Canada and is the cheapest ($50). All three last 5 years.

It makes virtually no sense to me to get just PreCheck, Global Entry makes the most sense for many people because many credit cards will rebate the signup cost — for instance the Platinum Card by American Express, Citi Prestige, and Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.

Maintaining Global Entry and PreCheck

Once you have it you don’t want to lose it. When coming into the country be sure to declare chocolates, candy bars, chips, or any various items of sustenance whether open or closed, for personal consumption at the airport or meant as gifts. Even if it’s just chocolates off of your flight.

And be sure to keep your profile up to date for instance if you get a new passport.

My PreCheck Experience

I go through airport security multiple times a week. It rarely takes more than a few minutes. Even when I see long-ish PreCheck lines they usually move quickly.

The most frustrating thing is that even though TSA supposedly stopped sticking passengers into the lanes at random, they still do — instead of having poorly trained behavior detection officers racially profiling passengers and assigning them PreCheck, they have poorly trained agents walking dogs around and deciding when the dogs are picking out a specific passenger to go into PreCheck lines. (It’s the difference between ‘Managed Inclusion I’ and ‘Managed Inclusion II’ only one of which was eliminated.) These passengers take extra time because they take off shoes, laptops, etc. because it’s how they’re trained.

Just this past week I showed up at New York JFK as my flight was boarding. I still needed to clear security and walk to the midfield concourse in American’s terminal 8. I still boarded my flight in plenty of time to get overhead space above my seat. That wouldn’t have happened if I merely had ‘priority’ security.

Whenever I’m at an airport which doesn’t offer PreCheck, or PreCheck lanes are closed (like in Philadelphia at 6pm or Miami just because), I still get expedited screening.

  • You keep your shoes on
  • Your Freedom Baggie of liquids stay in your bag (but honestly, they do anyway, I don’t remember the last time I saw a screener insist you take your liquids out of the bag)
  • Your laptop is still supposed to come out of your bag
  • You go through the metal detector, not the nude-o-scope

I still use a laptop bag that’s “TSA Approved” and so I just have to unclip the bag rather than taking the laptop out.

PreCheck Just Got Better

PreCheck and even expedited security are great for people who ‘know the drill’.

Playmobil Security Playset

However not every airline participates in PreCheck. There are costs to the airline to offer it, since it involves IT integration. Lack of PreCheck is one of the main reasons I won’t fly Spirit Airlines. Even when you’re eligible for PreCheck — you have a Known Traveler Number from one of the programs that qualifies you — there’s no place to enter that number on a Spirit reservation so your boarding pass won’t identify you as PreCheck eligible at security.

For the most part only US airlines plus Canada’s Air Canada and WestJet participated.

Since international carriers have generally been excluded from the program — if you’re flying British Airways for instance you cannot have PreCheck — places like the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX and terminal D in Houston haven’t offered PreCheck lanes at all.

Fortunately four new airlines have been added to PreCheck: Aeromexico, Cape Air, Etihad Airways and Seaborne Airlines (HT: One Mile at a Time).

That means participating airlines are now:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant
  • American Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • WestJet

Including Etihad must make Delta’s head spin.

Since Etihad operates out of the Bradley Terminal it will be interesting to see if they get PreCheck. I’m doubting it. However it should be possible to clear security at a different terminal using the PreCheck lanes. Or perhaps they’ll offer expedited screening in the regular security lanes for PreCheck-eligible passengers.

I look forward as well to seeing how this affects US immigration preclearance in Abu Dhabi, with the extra security check for US-bound passengers. It would be great to streamline that experience.

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. @Tony – you did make it racial. Saying you are not making it racial, but pointing out people’s race and posting an assumption about all of their attitudes makes it racial (and small minded).

    Regarding Global Entry, if you arrive at DFW, the ordinary self-serve kiosks are almost as fast as Global Entry. You all have to wait the same amount of time for your bags, so the only advantage is in the Customs line and that usually is not too long. However, pre-check in Terminal D is never very fast. It always seems marginally faster than the regular line.

  2. @Jim if the facts point to it being racial I can’t help that. But lets all be clear, if you don’t think there aren’t racial problems in this county, then take off your rose colored glass’s.

  3. @Tony, we are having a debate in my office. Once someone receives pre check and books with an approved airline, are they guaranteed to receive it for every flight or is it still random? Of course, this would have to take into account that they are using an airline that has it as well. I can’t seem to find this particular question answered anywhere. Thank you!

  4. @Lori if the person in your office has Global Entry and their known traveler # is in the airlines system, then yes, they will get Pre Check.

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