Travel How-To: Enroll in TSA Pre-Check

by  Darren Murph | Aug 21, 2013
Airport security
Airport security / martince2/iStock

Most would agree that flying today is better than in years past, but one thing is for certain: it takes a lot longer to get from the curb to your airline seat. By asking every individual on a commercial flight to remove belts, shoes, liquids, laptops, coats, and spare change, the minutes spent waiting in security lines can really add up. Thankfully, the U.S. government seems to be taking notice, and it recently announced plans to expand a fast-lane security procedure to include everyday travelers – not just frequent flyers.

In 2011, the Transportation Security Administration created a program called Pre-Check that effectively reduced security wait times. Partnering up with a handful of major airlines (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America), Pre-Check allows pre-approved passengers to be expedited through separate, dedicated security lines. (They're right beside the normal lines, though not every airport has yet added Pre-Check; for a constantly updated list, keep an eye on this site.)

Now, the program is moving out of beta phase and is available to any traveler that wishes to apply. This is great news, as gaining Pre-Check status exempts you from removing your shoes, belt, and jacket, while keeping your liquids and laptop inside your carry-on. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can show up later than usual to the airport (after all, getting into the Pre-Check lane isn't guaranteed; security personnel retain the right to send any suspicious-looking person back to the normal security line, Pre-Check or not), but it'll often give you a lot more time beyond security to grab a meal or get a bit of work done in the airline lounge.

Wondering what your options are for joining? Let's take a look.

1. Opt-in via an airline's frequent flyer program: American AirlinesDelta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, and Virgin America all have agreements with the TSA, allowing select flyers to apply via their preferred airline and be allowed into the Pre-Check echelon free of charge. The exact rules for inclusion are kept purposefully private for security reasons, but generally speaking, you will have to fly over 75,000 miles per year on one of these airlines. You'll also need to have a flawless record in the security line; if you're ever stopped for carrying a weapon or a dangerous substance, you can kiss your chances of inclusion goodbye. (Click on the respective links above for online application forms.)

2. Enroll in Global Entry: We've covered the myriad benefits of Global Entry before, but even if you aren't planning to travel internationally, it's probably worth the $100 fee for a 5-year membership. The little-known benefit for domestic travelers is that any citizen accepted into Global Entry is automatically and unequivocally accepted into TSA Pre-Check. Be sure to see our guide for the full rundown, but as a refresher, you'll need to apply online, pay your $100 (nonrefundable) fee, and then schedule an interview with a Customs and Border Protection agent at major airport.

3. Apply directly with the TSA: Later this year, the TSA will open up a dedicated enrollment site enabling any citizen to apply for Pre-Check status. In practically every way, the process here will be the same as if applying for Global Entry: spill a lot of personal information, put your fingerprints on file, and cough up $85 for a 5-year membership. If you're deemed docile enough for inclusion, you'll be granted a Known Traveler Number (KTN), allowing you to cruise through security in the Pre-Check lane. (Of course, for just $15 more, you could opt for Global Entry and gain expedited entry into the United States when returning from abroad.)

Enrolling in Pre-Check makes travel a bit less hectic, but there are a few things to remember:

  • If you wear shoes or boots with metal rings or zippers, you'll still have to remove those in the Pre-Check line.
  • Just because you're enrolled in Pre-Check, you may still be randomly selected to go through the "normal" security line on occasion.
  • When booking flights, make sure the name on your ticket matches the name on your Pre-Check profile exactly.

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