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TSA Opens Enrollment to Airport Security “Fast Lanes”…and Why You Shouldn’t Apply

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tsa-pre-checkA few months ago, I shared the secret, backdoor way of getting into those “fast lanes” at the airport so you can breeze through security.

Many of you who took my advice said it actually put some fun back into air travel (or at least took a lot of the misery out of it).

So, the TSA’s recent decision to open up its “fast lane” program to anyone who wants to apply would seem like a good thing…but here’s why you shouldn’t do it.

First, if you’re unfamiliar, those airport security fast lanes are for members of Pre Check, low-risk travelers defined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

If you didn’t use my backdoor secret — joining an international traveler program like Global Entry which auto-enrolls you into TSA Pre Check — getting into Pre Check alone used to be a mysterious process.

You either had to be invited by, or apply through, your frequent flier program, but both methods essentially amounted to crossing-your-fingers and waiting indefinitely.

But starting late last year, TSA began aggressively expanding its Pre Check program, allowing you to apply online and at a growing network of in-person enrollment centers. The price is $85 for five years of membership.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, even if you’re accepted into TSA Pre Check this way, you don’t always get Pre Check clearance (i.e. use of the “fast lane”) for a given flight.

This can really bite you in the butt if you don’t leave enough time to get through the regular security line or if you pack your liquids according to Pre Check’s looser guidelines.

(Always check your boarding pass for the Pre Check logo long before you head to the airport.)

That’s why I stand by my earlier recommendation — instead of joining TSA Pre Check directly, join a program like Global Entry that automatically qualifies you for it.

This isn’t perfect either — in fact, I didn’t get into the Pre Check lane for my flight today — but according to TSA’s press secretary Ross Feinstein, as a member of a “Trusted Traveler” program like Global Entry, you are more likely to be selected for Pre Check on domestic flights.

Global Entry costs $100 for five years (it’s refundable for Amex Platinum members) but I think the better Pre Check odds — not to mention making international travel a breeze — are well worth the extra $15.

Do you have any experience with TSA Pre Check, Global Entry, or other Trusted Traveler programs? Thinking about applying?

Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

23 Comments

  1. Globetrotter

    January 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Hey, don’t knock it! I’m part of the Global Entry program and it’s great! You breeze through customs and the checks on pre-check are nice. Not thoroughly consistent as some places still don’t apply the procedure correctly and small airports simply aren’t staffed for two lines, but frankly, at a small airport it’s a non-issue anyway. Makes going through security almost liveable. Unfortunately foreign countries don’t have an equivalent so it’s only half the equation..then again..if they did, we wouldn’t need tsa at all!

  2. Jack

    January 21, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Just another rip off for more $$ you eill not move any faster. If you save 10 minutes your lucky, some thing happen to speed up line. Arrive early an relax! Over 1mm miler!

  3. chris m

    January 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Recently received my GOES card and I’m looking forward to using it domestically in March (Bandon Dunes) and internationally in September (Ireland). Should be a great asset but I will have to wait to verify its value. Thanks.

  4. Mike Cobra

    January 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Can you tell me where I can read your previous story about the secret, backdoor way of getting into those “fast lanes” at the airport

  5. PJ Thompson

    January 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve been using PreCheck through Delta’s FF, my success rate for expedited screening is above 90%. Even if you’re not selected you still skip the long wait in the general screening line. Big deal. You should be prepared to be screened anyways- don’t take it for granted.
    Strangely, one time in Boston the preCheck line was actually LONGER than the public line- how’s that happen?

  6. Rob

    January 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I’ve joined them all. Clear, Fly Clear or Clear Me (the relaunched , TSA Pre Check and Global Entry. Being based in Orlando, most of these programs are originated or activated here first, so if you are in a major hub the programs can be extremely helpful to speeding along the boarding and customs process, however, I find the biggest obstacle in the USA is “coverage”. It is still the exception, rather than the norm, to find enough airports who have these programs implemented. Internationally, Trusted Traveler programs are more mature and prevalent. Let’s hope that Global Entry program is more effectively rolled out across the county than the proceeding programs.

  7. Bob Joyce

    January 21, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    My wife and I both are in the Global Entry system and find that a real benefit. We, therefore, have been benefitting from the Pre Check system – until our last flight (San
    Francisco to Houston) when I had the Pre Check logo on my boarding pass but she didn’t. I called, and was told that it’s a “random” thing – which ticked me off immensely. Fortunately, the security line at SFO was not very long for the non-Pre Check folks..

  8. Jeff

    January 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I have been using TSA Pre Check for the last two years after having been invited through American Airlines. I am a Platinum member and a million miler so I assume that may have triggered the invite. In that time I have only been sent back to the regular line once. I have no idea why it happened but for the times I have used it was worth the one time effort to join.

  9. Gary Miller

    January 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I have been a member of Global Entry for five years and find that I get more TSA Pre Check clearances than those who enrolled in the TSA Pre Check program only. I would recommend to anyone to first enroll in the Global Entry Program. It makes any travel and especially golf trip much easier.

    Gary Miller

  10. Tom Rossaki

    January 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Like you said Global Entry is much better deal all around and be sure to check your boarding pass(online check-in) for the Pre Check logo or you will be told to go to the snail lines with all the BS you had to deal with.

  11. Rob

    January 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I think NEXUS (US-Canada) counts as an equivalent to the Global Entry program

  12. Jack

    January 21, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    To the other Jack and his comment. For $20/year, to get through lines 10-20 minutes faster on both ends of a trip seems worth it to me. Coming back from Scotland through Chicago last July, it took me 30 seconds to get my piece of paper from the machine and walk out of the first stage, while others were in the line far longer. Recently in Phoenix my wife got the pre-check and I didn’t and she was at the gate at least 25 minutes before me. Sorry, but it is worth it at twice the price.

  13. Michele P. Campbell

    January 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    My husband and I joined Global entry and had the opportunity to use that and Pre-check last week on our trip to Mexico. The TSA pre-check only works if it is on your boarding pass. I had to enter my traveler number when I registered for my boarding pass. Do not assume your number is going to appear even if the airline has your information. One time it did not appear and I showed by GOES card but that does not get you into Pre Check. Going through customs was a breeze for my husband but unfortunately I was at a kiosk that did not work properly and I had to manually enter my information as it did not read my passport. It still worked OK.

  14. Steve

    January 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I concur with the commenters who recommend the Global Sentry program – it is totally worth it. However, it does not cost $100. Through the GOES website, you can elect to join NEXUS, the Canadian program. NEXUS costs $50 and automatically qualifies you for Global Sentry – go figure. Therefore, you can get the benefit of Canada and U.S. Trusted Traveller programs for $50 and enjoy the full, “right-this-way-sir”, treatment. Lastly, for an additional $20 or $25, you can also opt for Sentri, which allows the same ingress/egress privileges for Mexico. I believe the the Netherlands and S.Korea are also implementing programs. As more countries join the Trusted Traveller consortium, it makes sense to check the GOES application process very carefully before paying $100 and only applying for Global Sentry.

  15. Julie Still

    January 21, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Using Pre for work travel and it’s definitely helped me get through screening faster. However, it’s inconsistently applied – some airports allow Pre to go through with liquids and computer in bag, others don’t. Also, there are many airports that don’t offer it at all, so it’s a marginal benefit overall, for my travel.

  16. sy

    February 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

    lol
    clearly Jack disses the system because he doesn’t want anyone else to join and slow him down. We see right thru u JACk(ass)

  17. Perry

    February 3, 2014 at 11:23 am

    I don’t think it has any advantage. Currently they only provide little bowls for items needing XRay attention and more often then not you need to put large items through; coats, hats, shoes (good shoes are held together with nails and that is a no no) except sneakers, etc.
    You do not need to take off a belt unless it has a large buckle but do need to put metal items in those teeny bowls and I have had those get hung up inside the XRay machine.

    So I deliberately go through the regular line most times.

  18. John G

    February 4, 2014 at 12:31 am

    Thanks to Steve for the money-saving suggestion above — about signing up for Nexus. However, as I look at the instructions it looks like you need to show up in person for an interview, and there is a relatively short list of places where you can do that — all relatively close to the US/Canada border. So if you’re from the US (like me) and live in Seattle or Detroit or Niagra Falls, you’re in pretty good shape. Otherwise, it looks like you should use the GOES approach. Please correct me if this is mistaken!

  19. Rick

    February 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Traveled United recently and both wife and I had pre approved check for TSA but on return I had it and she did not therefore splitting us up. Mixing up carry on luggage, passports and had to wait any way for her to check thru and 10 minutes so that sucks!

  20. Dan Brantley

    February 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    It’s all about time. The first time I returned from overseas and entered the customs area at JFK… and walked past 600 people in line to use the Global Entry Kiosk… it was worth every penny!

  21. carl r graziano

    February 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Mexico just started its version of Global entry system. I pays to apply if you frequently travel to Mexico

  22. Stephen

    April 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Just another tax that allows the elite to pass on through. No thanks. I will continue to resist the the TSA tyranny and I will continue to opt out. If enough people took this approach, reasonable changes might be achieved.

  23. Steve

    September 13, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Can I use my sentry pass in the TSA Line to fly from San Diego to Dallas

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