When TSA Says The PreCheck Line Will Take Longer Than Regular Security, What Do You Do?

The estimated wait time at the Dallas – Fort Worth airport was longer for PreCheck security recently than it was for regular screening. Which one do you choose?

The new Analogic machines TSA is using is slowing things down, reducing the speed benefit inherent in PreCheck. And everyone with PreCheck knows to use that line! You don’t have to go through the full body imaging machine, just a metal detector. But what if it doesn’t save you time?

Why DFW?
byu/Aunt_Coco inamericanairlines

Normally when there’s a long PreCheck line I’ll use CLEAR. Most of the terminals at DFW airport do not offer CLEAR, a function of American Airlines influence (CLEAR is partially owned by both Delta and United, so American doesn’t permit it in terminals they control).

When PreCheck lines are short, I’ll skip CLEAR because CLEAR actually takes longer. You don’t have to take out your ID… unless you’re randomly selected to take out your ID. But each passenger takes longer to process, waiting for an employee who monitor you at a kiosk and then escort you to the front of the TSA queue.

Given equal wait times, I’d still take PreCheck. My bet is that PreCheck lines will actually move faster, with more seasoned travelers. And a lot of the variance is going to come down to the employees working the lines and the scanners. It would have to be a clearly and substantially shorter regular screening line before I opted for the potential indignities involved voluntarily.

However any PreCheck line that’s just as long or longer than general screening points to a failure of TSA to properly manage and staff PreCheck lines. Passengers have already been through a vetting process and therefore are supposed to be able to go through screening more quickly.

Of course these new ‘Analogic’ machines take longer on a per-passenger basis. In theory they won’t require enforcement of as many rules, and reduce the need for re-screening of bags. In practice though they don’t promote time saved.

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. Always pre-check because I don’t have to take stuff out and off.

    About knee v. leg room – yes! Even for those of us who aren’t tall, it matters. And then please, wider seats!

  2. TSA = “To Stupid for America” or “Thousands Standing Around”. I have TSA PreCheck & CLEAR too. You are correct. Sometimes it appears that the non PreCheck moves much faster. I also note that sometimes, even with PreCheck, “You have to remove your shoes/belt/watch/wallet/glasses… what next, cavity search? I am all for security at checkin but let’s get a standard and stick with it. Oh, wait…this is government and we’re here to help!

  3. Priority, if available. Typically they le you leave shoes on, but electronics still have to come out.

  4. When TSA says their PreCheck line will take longer than the regular security screening, it is easy for passengers to make the choice to enter their faster security screening line.

  5. I make an assessment based on how long the lines appear to be, who is in the various lines and what is being carried and worn and then pick which line to use based on which optimizes the combined value of saving me time and minimizing hassle. But since I dislike taking off my shoes at the airports and want to minimize the items making contact with the gross bins at the screening checkpoints, I tend to be more willing to sacrifice a little time for the convenience of not having to removed as many articles at the screening checkpoint and of minimizing the chances of having the TSA wanting to grope my body.

  6. @ Gary —> Even if it is longer, I’d be tempted to stay in the Pre-Check lane. Less hassle re: shoes, laptops, etc.

    @ Win —> Uh…shouldn’t that be “TOO stupid for America.” I mean, if you’re going to speak of intelligence v. stupidity, shouldn’t you at least spell it correctly? ;^)

    @ Tony —> Hey, if you want to spend 15, 20, 30+ minutes standing in line, go ahead. Between Pre-Check and CLEAR, I am (90+%) out and on my way in under 10 minutes. With the amount I fly, it’s more than worth it for me to spend $100 every four years. And that doesn’t even include the time and aggravation saved when reentering the US from abroad.

  7. @Tony N – what a ridiculous comment. You clearly have not used Precheck or Global Entry. Global Entry/Precheck has saved me hours of time. I recently flew internationally from LAX to Sydney and the regular security line was ridiculously long, easily 30+ mins. The Pre-check line took me just a minute to get through, there was NO ONE. That alone was well worth the $100 I spent for Global Entry.

  8. Unless preCheck is a federal disaster area and the standard line is clear (no pun intended), I’ll take preCheck every time. Certainly in the example in your photo. Because there’s no nudie scan, no taking crap out of bags, etc. It’s not worth the extra 2 minutes to deal with that much extra hassle.

    All that said, I share your annoyance with the new scanners. They’re crap.

  9. I was recently at an airport (I think it was DFW) where they post how long each line is, plus the adjacent security points. Both PreCheck and Regular were on the order of 25+ minutes. But the arrows directing you to either adjacent security point indicated their lines were all under 5 minutes. Yet people kept lining up for the 25+ minute wait. SO and I decided a short walk would be good for us after our positioning flight & bag drop and before a long transatlantic flight, so we headed to an adjacent gate. (The problem is everyone heads to the nearest gate after luggage check when there are plenty of alternative gates a little further away. People are lazy.) Zipped through and found ourselves right next to the Flagship Lounge – which we would have had to walk to anyway had we done the first security line. Only we were sitting with champagne while sheep were still in line.

    I’ve done the same thing in MIA after baggage claim and customs – there is no PreCheck line after re-checking your bags and the line can get long – to the point of missing a close connection. However, if you go out the doors and back into the terminal, PreCheck is close by – and much faster.

    It’s really not to hard to outsmart the general public – just read the clue!

  10. What a comedic travesty that in the land of equal opportunity we are having to pay additional money to our government to get cleared quickly to enter back into our country and to get airside into US airports when it should be quick for all free Americans and all people free to move about the US.

    It’s long overdue that PreCheck type screening of passengers’ bodies and personal belongings at the airport should be the default type of screening for all passengers with a boarding pass.

    Can’t wait to see what kind of mess DEN can be to fly out at the end of the weekend. It’s too often a mess at the same times during prime ski season.

  11. Ah, @CM, not all of us are lazy who don’t go to other checkpoints. I need the assistance of an airport wheelchair and attendant and my choices had been limited. For a time, Pre-Check at a bunch of airports (LAS was one; DCA another) wouldn’t allow a wheelchair and passenger in it and attendant through. (Oh the “discussions” at LAS pre-check!) Think too of many people who cannot navigate distances and be kinder about who choose what checkpoint. Disabilities happen and more people than not acquire them with age, military service, or from illness. It’s tough enough traveling dependent on others or as some friends have had to do, check and have their custom-chairs damaged literally robbing them of their mobility. (I know DL and UA are going to have some planes eventually that can accommodate mobility chairs. Alas, if one’s flight is canceled, how long til the next plane w/ the configuration and availability…a digression.)

  12. @Gary – Is there any evidence the Analogic scanners are slower? I’ve only used it once to date, but it didn’t seem slower IME.

    In fact, I recently went through a PreCheck line with the standard X-Ray, and they were pulling about half of the bags for secondary. It took what should have been a 5 min process and made it 20 mins. Not that it was a big deal, but as you noted, the personnel do matter, and the Analogic machine seems to take that out of their hands, for better and worse.

  13. I still get in the precheck line so I don’t get plantar warts or some other foot crud from taking my shoes off in the general boarding line. I also have Clear, so I bump the entire precheck line at those airports. Stopped going to the general line and got precheck years ago after someone tried to make off with my laptop in the general line.

  14. Someone made a comment “nobody uses TSA Pre anymore, the lines are to long” Does that comment make any sense?

  15. EgE, yes, the quote makes sense if you’re familiar with American baseball player Yogi Berra, who once famously said about a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

  16. It doesn’t matter what line you get into. It’s the same lazy government workers. This is what happens when you don’t finish school or your welfare support runs out and they make you get a job. You become a low motivated Too Slow for Acomplishing anything government tax paying sucking leach..

  17. Weds. at ORD the PreCheck line for Terminal B was unbelievably long. I thought I must have gotten in the wrong line so I asked an attendant and was assured yes, this is the PreCheck line. They were requiring any electronic larger than a cell phone in the bins, also jackets and shoes. Not the 311 bag, though. What is the point?

  18. At AUS, I’ve picked the regular line when it was shorter only to have it take longer because of everyone unpacking their stuff.

  19. Are there not rules or requests of civility here? “T”‘s comments were – uncalled for. I suggest deleting it.

  20. GUWonder says, “What a comedic travesty that in the land of equal opportunity we are having to pay additional money to our government to get cleared quickly to enter back into our country and to get airside into US airports when it should be quick for all free Americans and all people free to move about the US.”

    Ken A says, “What a comedic travesty that in the land of equal opportunity, we have to pay a $695 annual fee to purchase an American Express Platinum card to get cleared quickly to enter an Amex Centurion Lounge without being placed on their one to two-hour waiting list so all cardmembers can have a snack before a long walk to their next departure gate.”

  21. No question in my mind. Precheck even if it takes many times longer. The grotesque scanners are nothing that should be in this country and I am personally ashamed that Americans put up with such abuse. On the times when I’ve been “selected” I always opt out and listen to the lies that it will be a long time before they get to me (it never has been). It’s a good chance to tell the agent to take a look at what companies have invested in scanners, what officials have major investments in them and how they are giving “donations” to Congresspeople. (The information is readily available with just a little digging.) I refuse to be part of that game no matter how long it takes.

  22. And what if they lie? Yesterday I was in LGA. Choices for me were: CLEAR with Precheck, standard PreCheck, and SkyPriority. The official meter said 5 minutes for each,. After I was in labyrinth, I saw that these estimates were very wrong. I chose CLEAR with PreCheck which turned out to be 15 minutes, not 5. The SkyPriority line had NO PEOPLE in it (I guess all the SkyPriority folks had CLEAR and/or Prechack). The regular PreCheck line was shorter than my line, but but the time I got to the front, CLEAR and PreCheck were the same. BUT my point is, they lied.

  23. Clear is making us show our ID’s now everytime. I was told it is because i have a printed boarding pass vs one in my phone???????????????????/

  24. @Joan Eisenstodt – It’s not always about you. I’m sympathetic for those needing assistance, but isn’t there a separate line or procedure for those in wheelchairs? And even if there isn’t, the vast majority of people in line don’t require special assistance – those people should walk to the gates with shorter lines so people like you don’t have to wait as long. Attack them, not me.

  25. I have flown out of DFW 18 times this year and always go to D to hit the capital one lounge. I check the app for wait times. Sometimes the security lines in D are touching each other and they will shut down the precheck line entirely.
    I always park and go through security at B9. Its still precheck-ish. You have to take out your laptop but you leave your shoes on.
    It amazes me that people will stand in the precheck line no matter if there is no line in regular security. I haven’t been in the precheck line in D in ages. B9 is the sweet spot then a 2 min train ride over to D.

  26. When the CLEAR line is slower to use at the airport security checkpoint, it would be nice to post this information on the passenger display so we know to avoid standing in a slower CLEAR line to receive expedited processing.

  27. I’ve seen several kicked out of the PreCheck line on occasion slowing the process down.
    Yet, I’ve had a friend that I travel with able to piggyback on my PreCheck status (listed on both boarding passes) when I bought both tickets.

  28. If only those new machines’ capabilities approached MRI levels, they could help a lot of people with difficult to diagnose hernias. I’d be first in line to go through one of them.

  29. I love it when my friends use precheck and then either (1) end up in a longer line than me in the free lane or (2) get through so much faster than me that they end up standing at the gate for a longer period of time. I mean, woo-hoo, you beat me to the gate but… what’s so much better about standing at the gate vs standing at the TSA queue?

  30. @Joan – you must be new here. A significant proportion of frequent fliers are incredibly offensive online and likely are terrible human beings in real life. And Gary doesn’t really do moderation unless the comment uses a racial epithet.

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