If you’re old enough, you may remember a popular TV commercial where OJ Simpson, late for a flight, ran from the check-in counter at the airport to his departure gate in the span of about 10 seconds, using football moves to navigate his way through crowds and other obstacles. Today we know that Simpson, even if he weren’t incarcerated, would never have made his flight, because once he got to the security checkpoint, he’d have to wait in a long line, take out his laptop, remove his liquids, and take off his jacket and shoes and belt – and then put it all back a few minutes later.
These modern day security procedures have been frustrating travelers for over a decade now, but finally there is potential relief with the Transportation Security Administration’s new Pre-Check program. This new program allows travelers at certain U.S. airports on certain airlines to be pre-screened, so they can move quickly through security without having to wait in line or remove items from their luggage or person.
If you’re a frequent flyer on one of the participating airlines, you may have already gotten an invitation to join the program. If not, there is a backdoor way to participate by joining the separate “Global Entry” program. The Global Entry program is actually intended to make it easier and faster to return home from an international flight by allowing you to essentially skip the customs and immigration line. But all members of Global Entry are automatically enrolled in the Pre-Check program, too, regardless of their frequent flyer status with any airline.
Joining Global Entry is not necessarily quick or hassle-free, and there is also a $100 application fee; so this is really a good option only if you fly pretty frequently. You can start the application process by completing an online application but to be accepted you will also have to schedule an in-person interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers around the country. You’ll also have to agree to allow a background check. It’s a lot of work, because the goal of the program is to identify “low-risk” travelers who are willing to go through an extensive pre-screen in order to save time later at the airport.
Once you are approved for the Global Entry program, you will be enrolled in the Pre-Check program, too. Currently, you can take advantage of Pre-Check status when flying on Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, United, or US Airways, at certain airports where they have Pre-Check lines (click here for a complete list).
There is some element of mystery to the program. Even once you’re approved, the TSA will not guarantee that they will provide expedited screening for every flight. “[We] will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport,” they say, and that may include randomly denying you access to the special lines on certain occasions.
Even so, travelers who are in the Pre-Check program seem to love it and are happy to see that the program is continuing to expand to more airports.
CheapAir Travelers: Will you be joining the Trusted Travel Program to test TSA’s pre-screening? If you do, please let us know what you think!