Embracing TSA Pre-Check

Embracing TSA Pre-Check


By Robert McGarvey

My hold out is over.  

On June 1 I visited the TSA Pre Check enrollment office at Phoenix Sky Harbor and was told I could check my status online in a week or two.  

Literally the next day, June 2, I got an email telling me I’d been approved.

The process was painless. Maybe 10 minutes.  A few forms filled out. Electronic fingerprint collection.  Done.

Why had it taken me so long to enroll – and the question is more puzzling because my Amex Platinum card reimburses the $85 fee (and Amex already has done so!).

My indifference is easy to explain.  Since Pre-Check started, I got it, free of charge and hassles, close to 100% of the time.  Why do anything when I already had it on a de facto basis. 

In the past year, though, my success rate had dropped to maybe 50%.  I could see the future and it was grim.

TSA is enrolling huge numbers into Pre-Check, as the media and even some carriers whip up fears about long security lines. There were will be fewer and fewer free passes.

In Phoenix there were maybe two dozen people – without appointments – waiting for an opening to apply. Many enrollment centers now are discouraging walk-ins and, really, it is easy to make an online appointment, so why not?

Ever more will keep enrolling.

Does this augur longer lines for Pre-Check and slower processing? Of course. Bet on that.  

About 2.8 million of us are presently enrolled, but applications have doubled from 8000 per day in April to 16,000 in May.

The TSA goal is to enroll 25 million.

Research via the US Travel Association indicated that the primary stumbling block is the $85 price.  

For me, obviously, the $85 was never a hurdle.  I simply did not want to spend a few hours traveling to/from Sky Harbor and dealing with the TSA.  Honestly, though, it was all as painless as possible.  Having done it, I wonder why I did not do it a year ago.

As for those who have to shell out their own $85, I still say, go for it. Even two flights a year – 10 over the five years provided by TSA Pre-Check – make the cost per flight similar to an airport beer.  And Pre-Check lines will grow but they will remain shorter and faster.

The real reason not to enroll in Pre-Check? If most of your flights are out of airports that are not presently serviced by Pre-Check. Right now 160 airports are but there are thousands of airports in the US.

Even at airports that show as enrolled in Pre-Check, often Pre-Check lines are not open, a fact admitted by TSA.  

It’s not perfect. That’s plain.

But still I say: enroll and stop your grumbling about the long security lines. When Pre-Check is available – and typically it is at Sky Harbor, even Las Vegas, at Newark, the airports I frequent – it is very pleasant indeed.

I really dislike taking my shoes and belt off, I find it worrisome to set my computer out for inspection, and – always – in the ordinary security lines there are infrequent travelers who cause friction with water bottles, hand lotions, and more.  Everything just is faster in the Pre-Check line.

Go for it.


6 thoughts on “Embracing TSA Pre-Check”

  1. While I completely agree that the indignities suffered in Pre-Check are an order of magnitude smaller than those endured in the standard lines, I can’t help but be concerned at the obvious trend line: monolithic entity makes regular process (coach seating, security check, you name it) so agonizing that customers are forced to pay extra and/or surrender vital private information in order to receive tolerable treatment. Under what other circumstance would people voluntarily agree to be fingerprinted by a government agency, for crying out loud?

    I’ve already made my deal with the devil (by enrolling) so I’m no longer on the moral high ground here, but it’s still a question worth asking ourselves. What “security” do we actually get by helping governments track individual movements (and what privacy rights do we relinquish)? I continue to believe that the ability to travel anonymously should be a fundamental right and that one should not have to prove their identity as a condition of traveling (which the airlines love as much as the government since it enables them to prevent travelers from transferring tickets). Unless or until we live in a “Minority Report” world, knowing a traveler’s identity does nothing to prevent hostile acts. Time and again we learn the identity of a terrorist only AFTER they’ve committed a terrorist act (San Bernardino comes to mind as a recent example). Keeping explosives and firearms off airplanes simply does not require knowing each traveler’s identity, no matter what surveillance-loving agencies tell us.

  2. I don’t understand why people pay $85 for TSA Pre-Check, when for $100 for the same 5 years, you can get Global Entry…which includes TSA Pre-Check as well as fast-track entry back into the US from any foreign country. It’s the best bargain around.

    1. Ilene is correct: Global Entry may cost a whopping (?) $15 more, but it’s worth even more than Pre-Check. My very first return to U.S. soil found me bypassing EWR’s “regular” passport lines (estimated at 20-30 minutes long at that time) and spending all of two minutes at the ATM-like machine, which spit out my “ticket” through ICE (Immigration and Customs) and had me homeward bound in a flash. I probably shaved 30-45 minutes off the “normal” process… and that one time alone was worth the $100 (which has repaid itself over and over again since).

      And to those who worry about the government “tracking” my every movement: so what? If they spend any amount of time following my every movement, the joke will be on them; they’ll deserve the torture of watching my mundane life unfold. Yes, airport security may hardly be foolproof, but it’s still better than none at all… and so what if they have my fingerprints? I have nothing to hide, and I’ll take the good ol’ US-of-A over just about any other country any day (even if our political system is fast becoming as pathetic a joke as our domestic airlines themselves).

      I’ll live with our current imperfect system until someone comes up with something better.

  3. There are many more Pre-Check offices than Global Entry. I had to drive just 15 minutes to have my application for Pre-Check processed. For Global Entry I have to drive 50miles to a major airport, pay for parking to have my application processed and then drive back home another 50 miles. For many people it means a much longer drive. Also the acceptance of applications for Global Entry and granting of an appointment can take months. I have Pre-Check – but now I want Global Entry after spending 4 hours getting through passport control at Logan Airport last August. I submitted an application – am waiting for approval and the word is that they give out appointments more than 6 months later. By that time I wonder if I have to start over again since the $100 fee and application says it must be obtained within 6 months. I would have gone with Global Entry initially if it had been more convenient to get to one of the offices for the interview. TSA is making it very difficult and then complaining that too few are applying.

  4. While I’m a member of PreCheck thru Global Entry I’m a little less satisfied than you. I would estimate half the time I travel the PreCheck line is closed. You have to go thru the same screening line as regular travelers but get “PreCheck Lite”. “PreCheck Lite” allows you to keep your shoes on but requires removal of liquids and laptops. Each airport seems to handle PreCheck lite a little differently (some give you cards, some mark on boarding passes to show at screening, some have you scan your own boarding pass, etc)so if you’re not familiar with the station it’s a learning experience each time. There are still far, far too many people in the PreCheck line that have no idea what they’re doing and this slows things up a lot. TSA could do a lot better job with signage for these folks, instead of just yelling instructions or waiting for a problem. Lastly, it does a disservice to everyone when travelers not registered for PreCheck are shunted into the PreCheck lines. They aren’t prepared for the process, they just know they’re going thru TSA screening. They’re told they don’t have to take off shoes, etc, usually as they are doing just that. Then when they go thru screening the next time and they don’t get PreCheck, they’re confused because they DO have to remove shoes. Yes, PreCheck is essential for the regular traveler because if it works the way it is supposed to half the time it saves lots of time and hassle. Would I recommend it for people who travel by air maybe once or twice a year? I’m not so sure– $85/100 dollars is a lot for people to shell out who will carry on bags or go without a seat assignment to save a few bucks.

  5. You can go for a Global Entry appointment at any airport that has a GE office. I live in San Diego but did my first one in Orlando because I had a long layover. My wife did her interview in Honolulu. I did my renewal in Chicago.

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