TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/

Until December, 2013 TSA Pre✓ (PreCheck) was limited to frequent fliers invited to participate by airlines, members of US government run “Trusted Traveler” programs and members of the US military. Beginning on December 4, 2013, TSA opened the Pre✓ Application Program. Now any air traveler can apply to be in the TSA Pre✓ DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Trusted Traveler Program.

For many air travelers, TSA Pre✓ membership can be a big deal, especially for families with young children.

If you’re unaware of the TSA Pre✓ program, you don’t know what you’re missing. Going through TSA Pre✓ lines at TSA airport security checkpoints is like going through airport security prior to 9/11. Instead of being screened by a full body scanner or “grope-down,” you pass through a simple metal detector. You keep your belt, shoes and light weight jacket on while passing through security. Your liquids baggie and laptop can stay in your bag.

A trip through TSA security in the Pre✓ line is fast, less stressful and far easier than regular security. For families with young children it’s amazing, as you don’t have to be an organizational genius to marshal everyone’s belongings through security, keep the kids happy and not lose those special items essential to your kids’ psyche.

There are several ways to get into the Pre✓ program. If you’re a member of Global Entry or another DHS Trusted Traveler program and have a Known Traveler Number (KTN) you already qualify for TSA Pre✓. You just need to let your airline know your KTN when you make your reservations. If you’re an active member of the US military you can enter your Department of Defense (DOD) identification number at the time you make your air reservations to be eligible for Pre✓. (TSA is ending Pre✓ access based on the US military Common Access Card (CAC) soon.)

Some airline frequent fliers are invited by the airlines to participate in the Pre✓ program. Unlike others eligible for TSA Pre✓, airline-based qualifiers are “only eligible on the airline” through which they enrolled in Pre✓.

All other TSA Pre✓ eligible travelers may use Pre✓ when flying on any participating airline at participating airports.

According to TSA, the use of Pre✓ lines is never guaranteed. However, unlike in the past, when a Pre✓ vetted traveler went to the airport not knowing if they could use Pre✓ lines, boarding passes now routinely print the Pre✓ indicator on the face of the boarding pass, indicating its holder will be able to use the Pre✓ lines.

Initially, TSA Pre✓ was limited to just a few US airlines and airports; it wasn’t available for international travelers. Today Pre✓ is available for passengers flying Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin America airlines, at more than 100 airports across the US.

Recently, TSA authorized the use of Pre✓ security lines for international travelers. I’m certainly happy I’ll finally be able to use Pre✓ when flying internationally.

Children under the age of 13, traveling with a parent or guardian who is Pre✓ eligible, can use Pre✓ with them without being a member themselves. Older children need to be Pre✓ eligible themselves to use the Pre✓ lines.

The easiest way for eligible travelers (US citizens, nationals, and lawful permanent residents) to enroll in the TSA Pre✓ program is using TSA’s Universal Enrollment website. Here you’ll enter basic information about yourself and pay the enrollment fee of $85 (good for 5 years) which isn’t refundable if you’re ultimately refused entry to the program. You’ll eventually have to visit an enrollment center to complete the process.

Unfortunately, at this time, while there are 115 TSA enrollment centers, some states and major metropolitan areas have no enrollment center. I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the US, yet the nearest enrollment center for me is 77 miles away. TSA must substantially increase the number of enrollment locations to make the enrollment process fair for all.

At the enrollment center, you’ll need to bring a valid government-issued photo ID and proof of citizenship. There you’ll likely be asked some additional questions about yourself and you’ll have to provide your fingerprints to TSA.

After completing enrollment, successful applicants will receive a KTN via postal mail approximately 2-3 weeks following their visit to the enrollment center.

For US citizens, nationals and permanent lawful residents who travel internationally regularly or even periodically, I strongly suggest applying for Global Entry with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in lieu of TSA Pre✓. Global Entry membership will enable you to pass expeditiously through Immigration and Customs when reentering the US, avoiding the long lines there, and make you TSA Pre✓ eligible as well for just an additional $15 ($100 overall) application fee (good for five years). It’s a great deal for the international traveler.

In the last few years, I’ve personally found TSA Pre✓ definitely worth it, especially in combination with Global Entry.