What is a TSA pre-screening and how does it work?

Few people say they like the process of traveling. Getting to your destination can be a series of hassles or outright pain, so anything that simplifies your journey is a welcome relief. TSA PreCheck is designed to do just that.

Originally launched in 2013, the program today has more than 10 million members, more than 200 participating airports in the United States, and 80 participating airlines. However, 96 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in the expedited security corridor in September 2021, according to the TSA. If you don’t have a TSA PreCheck yet, here’s how the program works and what you can expect once you sign up.

What exactly is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows travelers to participate in a quick security check for domestic and some international flights. At participating airports, TSA PreCheck will have a dedicated security line that is faster and simpler than standard lines. In these lines, you can expect to keep your shoes, belts, and light jackets, and you won’t have to remove laptops or liquids from your handbags.

How to apply for a TSA PreCheck

You can apply for a TSA PreCheck online in about five minutes, after which you will need to schedule an in-person interview at one of the registration centers, many of which are located at airports. Expect to spend about 10 minutes on the interview, which will include fingerprinting and background checks. Once you are approved for TSA PreCheck, you will be given the Known Traveler Number.

There are several ways to get a TSA Precheck: you can apply for it yourself (if you’re mainly traveling domestic), or you can choose Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI – all programs that include TSA PreCheck membership.

Children under 12 do not need their own membership if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck. Children over 13 will need their own known passenger number – or they will have to go through the regular safety line.

How much does TSA PreCheck cost?

The first-time, non-refundable TSA PreCheck application fee is $85 and membership lasts for five years. As of October 1, 2021, the cost to renew your TSA PreCheck membership online has decreased from $85 to $70. (The lower rate only applies to online renewals; if you’re renewing in person or signing up for an expedited security screening program for the first time, PreCheck still costs $85.)

How to Get Free TSA PreCheck

The best way to get a free TSA PreCheck is with one of several travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Platinum Card from American Express. As long as you use a credit card to pay your fees, these credit cards will reimburse you for TSA PreCheck membership fees.

How long does it take to get a TSA PreCheck?

After the interview, most applicants are approved within three to five days, although some may take up to 60 days. The same schedule is true for renovations.

Once you are approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number, or KTN.

How to add TSA PreCheck to your boarding pass

Before you can enter the TSA PreCheck lane, you will need to update your boarding pass with the PreCheck logo, which shows that you are a pre-approved traveler. Daniel Gilaspia, creator of the travel blog UponArriving.com, points out a number of things to know: “You have to add the known traveler’s number to your frequent traveler profile and/or itinerary,” he says. Sometimes your known traveler number may ‘disappear’ from your itinerary and you will need to re-add it; you can do this at check-in.” If you don’t see the TSA PreCheck logo on your boarding pass and you’re traveling with an approved carrier, head to the airline counter to re-add or re-add your known traveler number from within the airline app.

Be aware that your information with TSA must exactly match your ticket and loyalty information or it will not be added. “If your TSA PreCheck is Michael Thomas Smith, but Delta puts you in their system like Michael Smith, TSA PreCheck may not translate and you won’t be able to use it,” says Shelby Burns, travel expert at Lola.com, a former business travel management platform.

Even if approved, there are times when you cannot do the pre-screening

Since not all airlines participate in the program, if you book on a non-TSA PreCheck carrier, you still have to go through the regular security line. The opposite scenario can also happen. “When queues become excessively long, security will sometimes transfer non-TSA PreCheck passengers to the TSA PreCheck line,” says Stephanie Miller, founder of Scenic Suitcase. “This can lead to longer waiting times for members, especially when people who are taken to the PreCheck line are not frequent travelers and therefore [are] Not skilled in the security process.”

It should also be noted that not every airport has a pre-screening and not every terminal within the airport has it. PreCheck lines may have their own opening hours and are not always open when the standard security line is open, such as early morning. At these times, if you show security agents that you are OK with the pre-screening, they may allow you to skip some security steps, such as keeping electronics and liquids in your bag or backpack or keeping your shoes on.

This article was originally published on January 31, 2019; Updated October 5, 2021 with current information.

>> Next: TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. Clear: Which is better?

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