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What Every Traveler Should Know About TSA PreCheck

Have you heard of Global Entry? Until last summer, I hadn’t. I did however know what TSA PreCheck was and I knew it was amazing. I also knew I didn’t want to have to pay for it. But six months and 20+ flights later I started to put a lot of value on streamlining the security process. When I started thinking about how much time I’ve spent in security lines just in the last year I began to reconsider. And then I heard about Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Here are the basics:

TSA PreCheck: A shorter security process at the airport for travelers who qualify as “low risk”. There’s usually a separate security line and instead of taking items out of your bag (ie laptop or liquids) and taking your shoes off, you simply place your bags on the conveyor belt and walk through a simple metal detector. I’ve done it before where I literally just put my bag on the belt and walked through (jacket, shoes and all) without stopping.
You may have been through the PreCheck line already. A lot of airports will start sending passengers through that line in order to speed up their other lines.

Global Entry: A US Customs program that allows expedited entry upon return to the US via an automated kiosk. No more filling out the form on the airplane and waiting to have an agent review it and your passport. Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck.

 

How To Apply

The process for both is similar. I ended up applying for Global Entry because the $100 fee is only $15 more than the $85 fee to apply for PreCheck so in my opinion there was no reason not to go with Global Entry. Both programs are good for five years.
TSA PreCheck application here
Global Entry application here
The process involves filling out a lengthy application (it’s a background check), paying the fee, and then eventually doing a quick in person interview at a TSA office. It’s not hard to do but the whole process takes a couple of months from start to finish.

 

Here’s how my timeline panned out…

June 2nd – I filled out the online application and paid the (non-refundable) $100 Global Entry application fee.

June 16th – Exactly two weeks later (on my birthday no less!) I got the email telling me that I had been conditionally approved and to schedule my interview. An interview involves going to one of the Global Entry offices with your passport to answer some really basic questions.

The Global Entry office at Sky Harbor in Phoenix (which is where I live) offered time slots starting at about 6-8 weeks out from the current date. Not great if you’ve got multiple trips booked in that time frame. I’ve read elsewhere that a lot of people try to schedule their appointments at another airport that they’re flying into if that airport can give them an earlier slot. Unfortunately, a lot of the major airports don’t have any immediate openings. I’ve been told that you should check back for last minute cancellations but I checked constantly and never found any.

In a hurry? There were three airports I found that had immediate openings. As in, they would have taken me the next day if I’d been able to. Those airports are Albuquerque (ABQ), Tucson (TUS) and Salt Lake City (SLC). What’s particularly special about SLC is the fact that they have Saturday and Sunday appointments while most of the other airports do not.

I ended up deciding to drive down to Tucson to get mine done. Why not just wait for an opening in Phoenix? I had six flights scheduled between when I got my conditional clearance and when my interview would be. Obviously the time taken to drive down to Tucson and back might end up being equal or even slightly more than the time I would have spent going through security for those six flights. But what mattered to me was that having Precheck would allow me to make a couple of tight timelines work on those trips. Plus, Tucson is kind of a home away from home for me (I’m a U of A alum) so it didn’t bother me to make a drive down there.

June 22 – I walked into the nearly empty Global Entry office in Tucson and five minutes later I was having my fingerprints taken. I was then asked which countries I’ve visited in the last 5 years. After a quick picture (for my ID card) I had a confirmed Known Traveler Number!

June 28 – I flew for the first time with my Known Traveler Number and had PreCheck on my boarding pass! Success!

First week of July – My Global Entry card arrived in the mail. I’m not entirely sure that I’ll ever need the physical card itself but now I have it.

And I’ve had PreCheck print on every boarding pass since then! It’s added up to countless hours of time saved in security lines and made my travel days way less of a hassle. I was also able to use the Global Entry kiosks upon my return from Europe and made it through Customs in a flash!

 

Two Things To Note

Once you get your KTN (Known Traveler Number) be sure to enter it when you book your flights! Without that information in your reservation the airline won’t be able to issue you a boarding pass that shows you have PreCheck. Most airports will not let you into the PreCheck lane without a current boarding pass showing PreCheck on it!

You are not guaranteed PreCheck on every flight despite having Global Entry (or just plain PreCheck)! In the fine print there is the caveat that they reserve the right to not issue PreCheck at their discretion. Also, only the major airlines qualify to print PreCheck on boarding passes (see the list here). However, I’ve flown over 20 times with Global Entry and have had PreCheck on every single flight so this is just a FYI and not really a legitimate concern.

So in closing…if you only fly once or twice a year you probably won’t find it worthwhile to pay for either program. But if you fly frequently you’ll find that both programs are major lifesavers! My biggest advice for someone thinking about applying for Global Entry? Just do it!

What about you guys? Do you have TSA PreCheck or have you enjoyed the perks of going through the PreCheck line?

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  • This sounds like a great way to save time. I always hate going through a long security process. Right now I don’t fly enough to make it worth it, but I’m going to keep it in mind for the future! I’m sure it’s really handy for you with all of your traveling.

  • I love Global Entry/ Pre-check! This is a fantastic description – Wish I had this when I had signed up! In DC, they had plenty of immediate openings, so we go our “interview” done the week after we applied. It was really quick! I didn’t know that they could technically not give you pre-check. That will save me the embarrassment of complaining if I ever don’t get it!