Even if you have never flown on an airplane in the United States you almost certainly have heard of the TSA or Transportation Safety Administration. The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers is an event that will remain in the memories of Americans for a generation, and is why the TSA was created. Its basic purpose is to ensure the safety of passengers and the nation collectively. However, people who regularly flew for business or as a normal part of their lifestyle quickly found the new check-in process frustrating, aggravating, and sometimes downright offensive.
It only took a month for the agency to recognize its flaws and in October 2011 the TSA Pre-Check program was instituted. The original security measures were not designed to inconvenience American passengers but to significantly reduce the risk of a person to board an airplane with an explosive device or weapon that could be used to hijack a commercial airplane. Air Marshalls were added to security measures, increasing the level of security for passengers. With some changes in security, the TSA Pre-Check was a common sense alternative for low risk passengers.
If you have a TSA Pre-Check authorization, going through the security check-in process is faster and easier. However, of all the national and international airlines around the world who enter the United States, only 56 have been given authorization to participate in the program. Here is a short list of the major airlines you would expect to get the green light:
- Air France
- Delta Air Lines
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- British Airways
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
If your airline is not on this list, call their customer service department and find out if they are authorized.
But it’s not just the airline that must be authorized but the specific airport you will be flying in and out of. Currently that number is over 200, and if you are going through America’s busiest airports you can almost be guaranteed they have been authorized. Again, check to see if your route includes TSA Pre-Check status.
The benefits of TSA Pre-Check are largely a matter of convenience. For those who have pulled out their hair when going through the TSA screening process, it is a must-have. You can keep your shoes on, leave your laptop in your laptop carrying case, keep your belt on, and have small bottles of liquids pass through hassle-free. You will still pass through a screening device but only in rare circumstances will you have to completely unpack your carry-on bag.
As in the movie Up in the Air it is possible to be one of the passengers chosen for randomly selected for additional screening status. TSA Pre-Check will not protect you from this part of the process, but when you consider the millions of people who fly regularly, your chances of being one of the chosen is statistically insignificant. Speaking of statistics, TSA data shows that Pre-Check passengers are likely to pass through security in less than 5 minutes 98% of the time.
You begin the TSA Pre-Check authorization process by completing an application. Often your application is processed and approved within a few days, though there have been people (such as military service members) who get approved in minutes. That approval is good for 5 years, then you will have to reapply for renewal. You will receive what is called a Known Traveler Number, which you will need to have handy when making reservations to prevent any complications. It must be listed on your boarding pass.
The cost of a TSA Pre-Check pass is currently $85 per person. Children over the age of 12 will have to have their own pass. The good news is there are a number of credit cards that will reimburse you for the cost of the pass, while others include it as part of their rewards and loyalty programs.
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Delta Platinum or Diamond status cards
Finally, you can also qualify for TSA Pre-Check status if you are approved for other security programs such as Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI. In most cases approval is automatic. Deciding whether to spend $85 to avoid screening if you only fly once a year isn’t easy, so as convenient as TSA Pre-Check is, it simply not be worth it for you. Another reason is that you have to go to an in-person interview as part of the application process, so consider the amount of time required to have someone ask you a bunch of personal questions you may not feel comfortable answering.