by Nick Taylor
The first time I was singled out for a TSA Pre-check I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was a complete surprise.
At LaGuardia Airport for a flight to San Francisco, I was directed out of the regular security line to one side, where an agent told me to keep my shoes on and my computer in its case as I went through the screening.
I had no idea how the Transportation Security Administration had figured out I was a non-terrorist good guy, but I was glad they had.
Since then the reasons have gotten less mysterious, but it’s still a relief to be able to speed through with your shoes on and use one or two plastic tubs instead of half a dozen.
It turned out that in my case, my American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer membership had qualified me for the pre-check program.
Frequent flyers with Alaska, Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin America are also eligible. You have to opt in the the program — I didn’t know I had — but once you do the airline identifies you as a TSA Pre-check participant when it submits passenger reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system.
The information appears on your boarding pass, which signals the airport security folks to send you to the pre-check line.
This only works when you’re flying on the airline whose program you belong to. Barbara and I learned this recently when we flew on American to San Juan and breezed through as pre-checked travelers, but were stuck in the long line the next morning for our continuing flight on Seaborne to the British Virgin Islands.
But if you travel on multiple airlines, you can nevertheless become part of the TSA’s Pre-check program. It costs a little money and a little time, and you have to be fingerprinted, but the payoff may be worth it. Here’s how it works:
- Complete an online application.
- Schedule an appointment at a TSA Pre✓™ Application Center.
- Visit the TSA Pre✓™ application center, pay the $85 fee, provide valid government I.D. and fingerprints.
- A Known Traveler Number will be sent to you via U.S. Mail or can be obtained online.
Once successfully enrolled, provide your Known Traveler Number in the ’Known Traveler Number’ field when making airline reservations. Additionally, members can update their airline member profile to have the number automatically sent to TSA when booking reservations. The Known Traveler Number will be submitted along with Secure Flight passenger data to TSA. Remember to enter full name, date of birth and Known Traveler Number exactly as you provided during the TSA Pre✓™ application process.
The $85 fee covers a five-year membership. There are also other ways to ease your way through airport security lines and U.S. border checks, but they’re more costly and complicated. The Department of Homeland Security offers three U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs that Americans and Canadians and some others can sign up for. View a comparison chart of the DHS Trusted Traveler programs.
The TSA Pre-check program, however, probably makes the most sense for most airline travelers.