Since 9/11, and TSA expanding their security, it’s caused a number of changes in how a traveler has to prepare and plan to travel when flying. Even if you carry everything on you still have to plan for getting through security, taking your laptop out, your toiletries out, your shoes and belt off and then wade through the funnel hoping the person in front of you doesn’t trip the system. If you have to check a bag, print or change a boarding pass, and you’re not a preferred a-lister with the particular airline, it’s going to take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get through the line only to have to go through security. Needless to say, it’s a completely inefficient way to travel that causes you to add at least 30 mintues to an hour onto the time you really need to get to the airport. If you decide to cut things close, and security is moving slow, you’re screwed. What if there was a different way? What if I told you for only $85 to $100 you could get a 5-year express pass through security that would cut your time from 30 minutes to 5 minutes, would you do it?
The TSA Precheck Program
It’s true, for a non-refundable fee of $85, with a valid photo ID and proof of citizenship documentation you could get an express pass through the security lines at the airport. A program called TSA Precheck is available at more than 130 airports nationwide for passengers for specific airline travels or participating airports. The TSA Precheck participating airports list is incredibly long and most likely includes the airport and/or airline you’re flying. Some of the more obscure airlines may not offer you the ability to use TSA PreCheck, but I’ve never personally seen an issue with this. If you’re a military member, you don’t even have to go through the application process, just visit the military members page for more details. Essentially what you’re participating in is a program that states you’re a low risk flyer and can be trusted which gives you access to expedited security lines at the airport. The TSA Precheck is only for domestic flights, but there’s other programs that we’ll talk about later that I personally utilize.
The process is simple and involves only four steps that can be completed in a few months.
- Complete an online application
- Schedule an appointment at a TSA Precheck application center. (more than 289 centers nationwide).
- Attend your appointment, pay the $85 fee and provide valid government identification along with fingerprints.
- Your Known Traveler Number will be sent to you via mail and can be obtained online.
The appointment is quick and easy and takes about 10-15 minutes as they ask you about your current job and things of that nature. Nothing too personal and then after some fingerprints you’re good to go. Your Known Traveler Number is the key and must then be input under your frequent flyer profile on your traveling airline(s). Once this is complete, you’ll get a special TSA Precheck symbol on your boarding pass and you’re free to go. Not to mention, the $85 fee buys you membership into the program for five years. If you’re a frequent traveler this is an absolute must to help you save time getting through the airport lines.
Global Entry Program
The easiest way to explain the Global Entry Program is to talk about how it’s different from the TSA Precheck. It’s a U.S. Customer and Border Protection program that allows for expedited clearance when traveling internationally getting back into the United States through an automated kiosk station. It also enables you, because you receive a Known Traveler Number, you’re eligible to participate in the Precheck program for your domestic flights. The FAQ page is great at answering the specifics, but it allows you to utilize their automated system to declare your goods without having to complete a paper customs declaration form before you arrive. The application process is exactly the same with the only difference being the fee is a non-refundable $100. The membership is also good for five years and provides you with expedited benefits in other countries and coming back through customs.
Personally, I chose to join the Global Entry Program because I viewed the extra $15 as a low barrier and figured if I take one international flight in the next five years, which I plan to, it would pay for the extra $15 itself. In the meantime, it’s drastically cut down on the time I spend at the airport because it allows me to get through the line in roughly 5 minutes or so on all my domestic flights. The only thing you need to keep in mind is you do need to be a little patient with getting your appointment. I had to schedule mine 3 months in advance in order to get mine so it’s not something you can simply take care of over the weekend. However, when traveling through the airport there isn’t a single other way that I know how to save time more than leveraging the TSA Precheck.
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