TSA Pre✓improved — now open for everyone

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.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Boondoggle. Extortion racket.

    We’ve been writing about Pre-Check for over two years at TSA News. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Not just according to us, but according to people who’ve forked over protection money to join the program.

    For the umpteenth time, you might not have to take your shoes off, you might not have to take your coat off, you might not have to take your laptop out, you might not get scanned, you might not get groped. Might might might. Even the TSA itself says so.

    Why are people still repeating the propaganda and basically reposting TSA press releases?

    Here’s just one woman, out of thousands we’ve heard from, who’s enrolled in Pre-Check yet still gets treated like cattle:


    Pianist Emanuel Ax is also a member, and has also been booted to the regular line, as we also wrote about.

    Regardless, the program is ethically indefensible. It’s the embodiment of “All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”

  • NedLevi

    I’ve been writing about PreCheck for some time too Lisa, and highly resent your implication that all I do is copy TSA Press Releases. Your statement is unprofessional and far from the truth, and trivializes everything else you said in your comment.

  • Amy Alkon

    There was not a shred of skepticism in what was written above. I resent what you wrote. Lisa Simeone was right on.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Ned, I retract the words “basically reposting TSA press releases.” Everything else stands.

  • 1amWendy

    Great. Let’s make sure that the TSA predators have that much more time to totally traumatize any grandma, child – or for that matter, anyone – with the misfortune of needing metallic medical equipment. Sorry, folks. Guilty until proven innocent. Such a high correlation between having a pacemaker, ostomy bag, or wheelchair and being a terrorist. Not. PreCheck is the TSA’s rather clumsy attempt to admit that the security farce of the past 12+ years has exactly been that. Can’t just admit that we over-reacted, can we?

  • duvenstedter

    You cannot make a general statement that “TSA predators … traumatize any grandma, child – or for that matter, anyone – with the misfortune of needing metallic medical equipment.” There are too many exceptions. My wife is such a “grandma … needing metallic medical equipment.” She simply notifies the nearest TSA staff member that she has an artificial hip. She gets some passes with a wand, and she rejoins me before I have reached the end of the scanner conveyor belt. (And the scanner conveyor belts at Boston’s Logan Airport move so fast that it difficult for us to keep up.) Of course, she makes sure that she has no metal with her, other than her artificial hip.
    I have witnessed all of these scans. She has never been taken aside or otherwise separated from me. Only twice has there been a delay while a female TSA staff member was rounded up. The delays were one minute and five minutes, respectively. I have also seen many other disabled people go through the lines. Their treatment did not differ from the treatment my wife received or from the treatment that other, unimpaired passengers received.
    Most of our flying is on international flights from Boston’s Logan Airport. At Logan and the handful of other American airports (Miami, Tampa, Asheville, Atlanta, Seattle, Anchorage) we have passed through, I have never heard a TSA staff member raise his or her voice or make a snide or insulting remark, even when a passenger is complaining. I cannot say whether TSA staff would (as I have read) retaliate against a passenger who was loudly protesting the injustice of it all and/or questioning the personal integrity of the TSA staff. This is because I have never, repeat, never heard a passenger raise his or her voice either. At checkpoints, it’s always very quiet, and any loud voice (TSA or passenger) would stick out.
    Obviously, the treatment you (and others about whom I have read) have experienced has been different. Elsewhere, you have probably identified the airports that have mistreated you and others, but I have not reviewed all that you have written. Of course, I agree with you that, where it appears, TSA abuse must be stopped. However, I disagree with your implication that it TSA abuse is a universal problem.
    The existence of TSA and the system itself is probably with us for at least another generation. It is now an industry rich enough to easily defend itself, especially when critics can be attacked as “soft on terrorism.” It will take a worldwide decline in terrorism, plus a major scandal involving TSA to bring down the airport security industry. So it is a waste of reader time for you (1amWendy), Amy Alkon, and even Lisa Simeone (who appears to be making a livelihood out of it) to continue attacking every article that merely discusses the TSA without calling for its end. By all means, continue to document TSA abuses. However, travelers still have to know about changes in TSA, how to avoid problems with TSA, etc., without a lecture on the (un)constitutionality of TSA.

  • 1amWendy

    I agree that with the advent of the MMW machines that metal implants seem to have been accommodated without groping. But, Sir, I happen to have an artificial leg. And I know of no one – NO ONE – with an ostomy bag, pacemaker, insulin pump, wheelchair or prosthetic that hasn’t been grossly assaulted (IMHO) by the TSA. So you have your experience, I have mine. I have testified at the TSA’s Crystal Palace, and because of my experiences at over 21 airports (and many more flights, both domestic and international) – I think that’s the number – between 2001 and 2010, when I simply stopped flying and resorted to car, ship and train for travel. Do I have it out for the TSA? You bet I do – I was a consultant, and was subjected to so much crap I gave up that very lucrative career (the beginning of the end was me refusing to allow my breasts to be checked becasue the metal detector alarmed at my right knee and below. Oh – and did I mention the strip search?). So, you see, your experience has been vastly different than mine, and I have seen no evidence to persuade me to try once again. It is truly a sad statement that the by far largest threat to my personal physical integrity comes from employees of the government. Handicapped While Flying – the new Driving While Black.

  • duvenstedter

    I am truly horrified at the experiences you describe. I did state that I did not doubt your very different, abusive experiences. I also said that your experiences were indeed corroborated by others. I implied that these differences in experience could be explained as being due to different airports being involved.
    But is this really so? Did any of your abusive experiences occur in the airports that I named (Boston, Miami, Tampa, Asheville, Atlanta, Seattle, and Anchorage)? (My visits to these airports other than Boston have been limited to a single departure.) Given your extensive air travel, I expect you to name at least one airport we have in common. If so, I concede in advance that I am unable to explain our different experiences.
    Others might be able to analyze patterns of abuse in terms of different levels of perceived powerlessness. However, even a successful analysis would still leave the problems of correction unsolved. If the problem is indeed powerlessness (as perceived by the abusers), increasing the power of the powerless would lessen not only the opportunity to abuse, but would lessen the very impulse to abuse. (I have heard this impulse to abuse described as almost a compulsion. it is especially strong among those who have been abused themselves!) An institutional solution could result from an ombudsman’s office with real teeth or from a revival of investigative reporting. Until an institutional solution occurs, the powerless can do only what they have always done: ally themselves with the relatively powerful.
    Of course, it is outrageous that a woman feels that she has to take a man with her to an auto dealership (even if he knows less about cars than she does). It is even worse that a disabled person can improve their treatment by traveling with a well-dressed, white male (especially if such a male is not available). But “I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it.”
    Perhaps social media can help disabled people to travel together, for mutual protection. I once witnessed an example of “the halt leading the blind”. It was a blind man with one arm around the waist of a feeble, crippled friend. The blind man was old (as was his friend), but he was tall and still strong enough to keep both of them on their feet against the power of a nor’easter storm of wind and rain. So the two of them had been able to defy the storm and reach their neighborhood gin mill. They were now on their way back home, and they could not have been happier, Sooner or later, we all will be able to profit from their example.

  • Susan Richart

    The TSA doesn’t use hand held metal detectors any longer. That stopped in November of 2010.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Quoting gfmohn:

    “So it is a waste of reader time for you (1amWendy), Amy Alkon, and even Lisa Simeone (who appears to be making a livelihood out of it) to continue attacking every article that merely discusses the TSA without calling for its end.”

    Darlin’, I fight for civil liberties because I think they’re worth fighting for. I don’t make any money doing it. On the contrary, it costs me. Anybody who claims that any of us engaged in this battle are “making a livelihood out of it” has his head so far up his you-know-what there’s no hope of getting it out.

    But your statement and this comment will probably both get scrubbed.

  • duvenstedter

    I did not mean to imply that your motives were inferior. I did assume that anyone who had such an Internet presence was being compensated for their time in some way. I did not think that there was anything wrong with earning a living in such a manner. Therefore, I included a reference to your making a livelihood out of it only as a indicator of the time and effort you were putting into your criticism of the TSA.
    I did encourage you and others to, “By all means, continue to document TSA abuses.” I criticized only what I saw as repeated criticism of other writers whenever they failed to take every opportunity to make a general attack on the TSA.
    My original point was that there are major variations in how TSA does business from one airport to another. Also, as 1amWendy has informed us, there are major variations in how TSA does business from one disability to another.
    (I don’t think either one of us has written anything so bad that our comments would be scrubbed.)

  • Cathy_Disqus

    Seems like a money grab to me. If it weren’t, then those of us who hold security clearances for our jobs (mine was actually issued by Homeland Security; it’s the same one the TSA agents have) could just use our HSPD12 cards as ID and automatically qualify for pre-check. They do take the card as ID when matching it to your boarding pass, but no pre-check unless you pay the extra $85.

  • NedLevi

    I don’t think it’s a money grab. The system isn’t perfect, as to prequalification for PreCheck, but what over at TSA and DHS is? The fact that membership in other Trusted Traveler programs automatically gets you PreCheck access shows me it’s not a money grab. I think they would have kept them all totally separate it was.

    Thanks for your readership.

  • Ribit

    During late November to mid-December, my wife and I traveled by air many times. We both have Global Entry identifiers which were provided in every air reservation. At the airport, I observed travelers that seemed to be randomly assigned to the Pre-Check line. This is based on the demeanor of these folks probably being in-frequent flyers. On the other hand, my wife would get the TSA precheck indication on the boarding pass and I would not, or vice versa. So, it did not really speed up things for us since one had to wait on the other. We both were on the same reservation in each case.

  • mtp

    You are exactly right, Ribit. I always get pre-check and my husband does not on every flight. It is determined by TSA on a flight by flight basis.

  • NedLevi

    Yes, under the current way TSA administers PreCheck it can happen that way.

    For whatever reason, I’ve been very lucky. When PreCheck has been available in the last 18 months, both my wife and I have been able to use it every time. Of course, now that I’ve said that, it probably will not happen again for a while (LOL).

    The program is improved, but TSA and this program have a long way to go until the get themselves and it right.

    Thanks for your readership.

  • BobChi

    I think expecting the TSA to be a logical, respectful, cordial organization is outside the bounds of realism. This is a step for the better – not a perfect solution, but an improvement. Given that in many countries you don’t have to do all these things anyway, except for flights headed to the U.S., tells me this is indeed a way of admitting the process since 9-11 isn’t really important for most passengers, while reserving its use for some who haven’t been vetted or seem suspicious. And it should become helpful for all, since the “regular” line should also eventually move more quickly with fewer in it.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    BobChi, in fact, the opposite is happening: Pre-Check lines are getting so clogged that un-vetted, un-Pre-Checked people are routinely being directed to the Pre-Check line, not only upsetting the Special People, but proving that Pre-Check is a joke. It doesn’t provide better security. It’s merely another act in the on-going farce that is TSA security theater. Otherwise, why would the Potentially Terroristy People be allowed to go through?

  • Susan Richart

    What do you mean “haven’t been vetted?” Allegedly, everyone who buy a plane ticket has been vetted through all sorts of databases:

    “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, but Times reporter Susan Stellin revealed this week that the TSA has access to a trove of huge databases — both federally and privately run — which it uses to keep track of information about almost anyone traveling through American airspace.

    Tax identification numbers, old travel plans, property records
    and even physical characteristics are contained in these
    databases, Stellin wrote, which is then shared among government agencies and often combined with other information on record elsewhere, including intelligence maintained by the likes of debt collectors and other private agencies whose profits depend on digging up personal information.”

    With this much information on every single flyer, there is no need for Pre-Check.

  • Amy Alkon

    We’re really supposed to now pay to have our rights and bodies somewhat less violated? My boyfriend was given this via Delta (as a very frequent traveler, poor him) and gets his genitals groped with some frequency by the TSA thugs.

    And really, Lisa Simeone below is exactly right. What are you, TSA press release posters? Not a shred of skepticism here.

  • NedLevi

    You clearly have never followed my columns over the years in which I have shredded TSA, their methodology, their lack of safety protocols, and their insistence on security theater in place of security.

    I’ve also taken CBP to task for their random electronic device confiscation program, yet I have also written about Global Entry and how membership in it can be extremely helpful for US citizens reentering the country by saving travelers the angst of inane questions by a CBP agent, and tons of time waiting in lines that sometimes seem to snake around past the horizon.

    That said, TSA is a fact of life for travelers, and TSA PreCheck is a program travelers can join which can make it considerably easier for them to get through TSA airport security checkpoints. I have seen traveler after traveler say how the program is worth it for them, and it’s certainly been a great help to me, making my travel far less painful than it was.

    Therefore, if I can tell my readers about a program which can help them, and tell them what it takes to get into the program I’m going to do that, and I’m not going to apologize by giving out such information. I don’t have to think it’s a perfect program and it’s clear I don’t, to say to readers, this program can work for you and this is how you do it.

  • Amy Alkon

    Uh, when a person reads a column on the Internet, there isn’t a requirement that they research everything the writer’s written. All I see is what’s here on the page, which is paragraph after paragraph of credulity and not a shred of skepticism.

    The person who has laid out the reality of pre-check best in this space is Lisa Simeone above.

  • Susan Richart

    Why should I have to pay $85 and provide my fingerprints to the TSA in order to be able to travel by air? As long as I am not carrying WEIs I am not a threat to air travel, even if I am Mrs. Osama Bin Laden.

    EVERYONE needs to be screened in the pre-9/11 manner without paying the extortion or being fingerprinted..

  • AKFlier

    I’m a federal employee. The government already has my digital fingerprints and lots of other data on me. I already had a background check. I already have a government-issued RFID card with this data encoded on it. Why should I have to pay $85 out of my own pocket (for only five years) to fork over all this data to yet another government agency, which may be equally incompetent at safeguarding it (think stolen laptops and hacked databases etc.), and then have to spend hours traveling to an enrollment center for more intrusive questions, when there’s no guarantee screening will be easier and when most of my travel is work-related? (No, the branch of government I work for won’t pay DHS for this.)

    I’ve been randomly assigned Precheck by the airlines courtesy of my FF status, but since I can’t count on it, I have to prepare for a full screening on every trip anyway. (I have never submitted to full body scanning.) All I see Precheck doing is making it less likely for FFs — i.e. those of us who are most likely to see through the TSA’s smoke and mirrors — to complain about this massive, expensive, intrusive, and ineffective “security” system.

  • Robert B

    I can only tell of my personal experiences with TSA and Pre✓ and what I know as a travel agent. First of all I registered for the Global Entry syetem so I’m in the Pre✓ database. The good news is that if you have an American Express platiunum card, American Express will pay the fee to join as a cardmember benefit. Contrary to the experience of other posters here I have not seen TSA routing people to Pre✓ lines if they don’t have the Pre✓ logo on their boarding pass. I have seen just the opposite where where people have been routed to the non-Pre✓ lines when the logo is missing. When traveling through the security at airports the Pre✓ lines typically move much faster and the lines are much shorter.

    Some people remarked that sometimes the Pre✓logo was missing from the boarding pass of their traveling companions. Working with travel agent reservations systems I have found that if the known traveler number isn’t entered exactly right the the Pre✓logo doesn’t appear on a boarding pass. When there are more that one person in an airline passenger name record (PNR) items in the PNR have to be properly associated with the correct passenger. Sometimes this can get fouled up. It can happen if a PNR is created by a travel agent or on an airline’s web site. My advice is that travelers should check in before leaving home and print a boarding pass for each traveler. If the Pre✓logo is missing, call the airline to make sure it was entered in the correct format and the numbers were entered correctly.

  • Susan Richart

    But, but, but John Pistole has told us that the BDOs (Behavior Detection Officers) select thousands of people a day for Pre-Check type screening:

    “Our behavior detection officers also enable tens of thousands of low-risk passengers the opportunity to receive expedited screening every day. In fact, as part of a larger effort that relies on the observational techniques employed by our BDOs, 219,000 passengers were
    selected to go through expedited screening Dec. 1.”

    So that means that more people were randomly selected at the airport for Pre-Check type screening than had the Pre-Check logo printed on their BPs.

    From USA Today in mid-December. Pistole’s sad attempt to defend his BDO program in light of being told by the GAO that said program is worthless.


    Some ambitious creative person needs to come up with software that will print the Pre-Check logo on boarding passes printed at home.

  • Fisher1949

    TSA had added government sanctioned extortion to the institutionalized sexual assault they put in place in 2010.

    TSA told us that “anyone could be a terrorist” when they started taking naked images of our children and groping them in 2010. Now they will give someone an exemption based on frequent flier status or their ability to pay a fee. This is no different than allowing people who buy a hybrid car or belong to AAA to ignore the speed limit.

    Why would the average person be happy about biased program that favors the frequent fliers and treats them as being “more equal” than others? We all pay the same amount for TSA and no one should get special treatment because they spend a lot with an airline or pay protection to TSA.

    Would people be happy if TSA offered this only to millionaires, whites, men or college graduates? If not then they should oppose this along with the exemptions for other “special” groups.

    If these security measures aren’t applied to everyone equally, then they simply won’t work and should be stopped. This blatantly is unequal and discriminatory treatment of average travelers who pay the same amount for government supplied security.

    Irresponsible media reports like this that ignore TSA’s crimes and failures while promoting their propaganda slows the much needed reform of this failed agency and makes air travel less secure.

  • Wanderluster

    I’m a frequent travel but am not enrolled in either Global Entry or Precheck. However, I find that sometimes I’m routed through the Precheck area for no apparent reason.

    I’m not complaining, but does anyone know why some people get randomly chosen for this?

  • Wanderluster

    * traveler