More often I find myself sitting next to someone on a plane who casually mentions that he or she was able to use the PreCheck line when arriving at the airport. It is so different from the regular hell that TSA inflicts on law-abiding passengers that they find it worth sharing with anyone who will listen.
How PreCheck Works
But, with all due respect to hell, TSA made the travel experience worse before making it better. PreCheck is not very different from how life used to be before 9-11. You get to keep your shoes and a light coat on. Electronics and liquids stay in the bag. You just need to take any metal out of your pockets. For those who are new to the program, please ignore everything you’ve been told about airport security in the past 10 years.
TSA Expanding PreCheck to More Travelers
Because TSA can’t afford to frisk everyone, they’ve started expanding PreCheck to more
suspected terrorists passengers, including 25% selected at random. Some of the people I speak to proudly claim they get PreCheck on half their flights as an elite customer. Don’t forget there are ways to get it more often and even when you fly on other airlines.
TSA now allows customers to sign up for PreCheck at a cost of $85 for five years. You’ll get a “Trusted Traveler” number that you can include in all your reservations and get PreCheck on 99% of trips without worrying about whether you’ve been one of those random selectees.
TSA is also adding more sign-up locations for you to complete your interview. But the locations are downright odd. They are frequently shipping ports and other major transit sites. Washington State offers them at Anacortes, Pasco, and Kelso. There are a lot of small cities on the list, which does benefit those who don’t live near an airport. But presumably those who will need a TSA PreCheck application will be visiting an airport at some point. And if they want to maximize the number of people who sign up, why not open them in downtown Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellevue?
Don’t Encourage the TSA
I strongly recommend against signing up for TSA’s program because there are three alternative programs run by Customs and Border Patrol, providing better value and more convenient service.
Global Entry is only $15 more, at $100 for five years. In addition to a Trusted Traveler number you’ll also get a Global Entry card that lets you quickly pass through immigration when returning from international trips. Most interview locations are found at international airports. You can pick any CBP office to conduct your interview, so even if you fly out of a minor airport, just schedule it for a hub while you wait for your connecting flight. You can even try a walk-in appointment if you have time on your hands.
SENTRI and NEXUS are special programs run in coordination with the Mexican and Canadian governments, respectively. In addition to Global Entry and PreCheck benefits, they also include faster immigration queues when crossing either our southern or northern borders — something that mere Global Entry cardholders do not receive. The five-year cost is only $50 (I don’t know why it’s less), but the number of locations to enroll are limited. It’s an affordable if less convenient option.