How the TSA Speeds Travelers Through Airport Security

Keep on shoes, jackets; keep laptops in bags

TSA PreCheck Boarding Pass
Courtesy of United Airines

I have been fortunate enough to get chosen to use the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) expedited PreCheck security line, and it was great. PreCheck allows travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on, using special screening lanes.

Back in October 2011, the TSA announced plans to launch a pilot of the PreCheck screening program at four airports: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Dallas/Fort Worth International and Miami International. These airports partnered with eligible frequent flyers from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines as well as members of the Customs and Border Protection's (CBP's) Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens and flew on participating airlines.

It is now available in nearly 400 airports and has 18 participating airlines

PreCheck is available all eligible travelers, along with their children aged under 13 years old. After paying $85 for a card that lasts for five years, any traveler can go to an approved interview facility for screening. TSA accepts a credit card, money order, company check or certified/cashier’s check.​ The fee covers TSA's background checks, vetting analysis, associated technology and enrollment center costs.  Holders of a Global Entry card are automatically enrolled in PreCheck. 

Travelers go online to fill out an application. Once approved, they are directed to go to an application center to give personal information including name, date of birth, address, their fingerprints, payment and required identity and citizenship/immigration documents.  After receiving a card, travelers can insert their Known Traveler Number (KTN) whenever they book a flight online or when they make a reservation by phone.

For travelers not enrolled in PreCheck, there’s still an opportunity to use it. The TSA uses its Secure Flight system to identify those who may be eligible for expedited screening using information already collected and provided to the agency by the airlines. This effort is used only on a flight-by-flight basis, and a TSA PreCheck indicator will be embedded in the barcode of a boarding pass that allows a traveler to use a PreCheck line.

The TSA created PreCheck as part of an ongoing effort to move away what it calls “a one-size-fits-all approach to transportation security.” Travelers have the chance to use PreCheck lanes at security checkpoints at almost 400 airports and on Aeromexico​, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Allegiant Airlines,​ Cape Air, ​Delta Air Lines, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines,​ JetBlue, Lufthansa, OneJet, Seaborne Airlines, ​Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, Virgin America and WestJet.

But the TSA emphasizes that it will continue to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no traveler will be guaranteed expedited screening.