The news had been filled with stories about “Queuemageddon” so what is it and how can you get around it?
What the news is referring to are the regular security lines at Midway and O’hare. 700 million people a year travel through airport security check points. Of those only 9.3 million are a member of a program that lets you get out of the regular security line. It’s called TSA pre-check.
What is TSA pre-check?
TSA pre-check is a program that expedites traveler screening through TSA security checkpoints. A five year membership costs $85 which is $17 per year. If you travel one time per year you are paying $8.50 at each airport to stand in exponentially shorter lines. If you have children under the age of 13 they can pass through pre-check with an adult who has pre-check. After that each member of the family needs to have their own membership.
TSA pre-check costs $17 per year. Done deal.
I’ve had TSA pre-check for at least six years. First for free from the main airline I flew and then I purchased Global Entry, which also includes TSA pre-check, for $100. One of my credit cards reimbursed the $100 fee. Global Entry gives you membership in TSA pre-check and for the extra $15 (for 5 years) allows you to skip the Immigration lines when arriving on international flights.
Rumor has it that TSA pre-check lines process passengers twice as fast as regular security lines. As an example in February it took me about 30 minutes to get through TSA-precheck and in March it took 5 minutes. So while the waits aren’t always the same the regular security lines are always much, much longer.
Summary of TSA pre-check benefits:
- Cost is $85 for a five year membership or $17 per year.
- The lines can be long but are never as long as regular security lines.
- You don’t have to take off your shoes, light jacket and belt when passing through security.
- You don’t have to remove your laptop from your bag (still make sure it’s charged just in case).
- You don’t have to remove your regulation-size liquids from your bag.
- You get to go through the regular metal detectors rather than the “nude-o-scopes”- usually. In March I was “randomly” selected for the nude-o-scope.
- TSA pre-check is available at 156 airports. Unless you’re going to smaller cities it’s available at all major airports.
How it works:
- Determine whether you are eligible here.
- Apply online here and pay the non-refundable fee. If you want to do it in-person find an enrollment center here.
- Once you’ve applied you will get an email or letter (I can’t remember and it may have changed) that you have been conditionally approved.
- Set up an appointment online with Homeland Security. When I signed up I couldn’t get an appointment for two months. I signed up for the appointment two months out but kept checking the website everyday. Not long after a bunch of dates opened up and I got in in under two weeks. You are able to change your appointment online.
- Gather the correct documents.
- At your appointment the agent will ask you various questions. My agent asked about my job and my travel. I went on a Saturday to O’hare (International terminal) and got in early (I arrived early). They scan your fingerprints and take a picture for a card you will receive later in the mail.
- Once you are approved and get your documentation you will have a “Known Traveler Number”. Enter the known traveler number into all of your frequent flyer accounts. If you don’t have any accounts add it to your reservation when booking tickets. By doing this when you print your boarding pass the “TSA-precheck” designation will allow you to enter the pre-check lines.
Do not sign up for Nexus or Sentri.
Membership to Nexus and Sentri costs $50 for five years and includes TSA pre-check. Do not do this! The closest location for your interview is Detroit for Nexus (I know someone who made this mistake) and Sentri is Arizona, California or Texas.
Using TSA pre-check:
Following are the hours and check points. This is not always accurate. Sometimes many of these checkpoints are closed so be prepared to walk from checkpoint-to-checkpoint.
How to get membership for more than 5 years. If you apply for Global Entry strategically you can get almost six years of membership with one application fee.
Global Entry is valid for five years after you are approved but it actually expires five years from your next birthday. So if your birthday is September 1, and you are approved for membership in February 1, 2017, your membership would be valid through September 1, 2022. When you renew you will then be on a five year membership cycle.
Other tips for getting through the airport faster:
- Check in 24 hours before departure. I use an electronic boarding pass and I print out paper as a back up.
- Go through your bags before you leave for the airport to make sure no prohibited items are in your luggage.
- Leave enough time to get to and through the airport. Leave double the travel time for traffic jams and public transit issues. Leave double the time to get through security. There are plenty of things to do at O’hare and Midway. Catch up on your reading. Understand that for many years planes have been flying full. If you miss your flight there may not be an empty seat on another flight for days.
- Have valid identification and boarding pass out before arriving at the travel document checker.
- Throw away your beverage before getting in the security line.
- Have your liquids and large electronics, including laptops, easily accessible in your carry-on bag preferably in a separate area that you can remove easily.
- If you don’t have TSA pre-check wear slip on shoes and pants with no belt.
- Empty your pockets, take off jewelry and put everything except your ID and boarding pass in your carryon before you get to the travel document checker.
- Once you get through security remove your items from the x-ray belt and walk away. Put on shoes etc. well past the x-ray belt so you aren’t blocking everyone behind you.
- Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself.
TSA Precheck has an app. Here’s all I can say about it. On the day I checked it at 10:42AM it was giving me Security Wait Times from 7:30AM. What a dud!