Updated May 2, 2021
I’d heard about the TSA Precheck benefits when the program first became available. I would see the short lines at the airport and think to myself “when I get back from vacation I should sign up for TSA Precheck”. Then, I would get home and it wouldn’t even cross my mind until the next time I was waiting in line to go through security at the airport. It wasn’t until my parents sent us a check for our TSA Precheck fee as a Christmas present that I finally got around to signing up. Best Christmas present ever! The first time I used TSA Precheck I couldn’t believe I’d waited for so long to sign up. Now that I’ve had it for a few years I can’t even imagine flying without it.
What Is TSA Precheck?
TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration. TSA is the agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for travel security in the U.S. Before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, security at airports across the United States was handled by private companies. After September 11th, the U.S. saw the lack of security at airports across the nation and implemented the TSA.
TSA Precheck is a program that was created to speed up the security line at the airport for passengers who have been pre-screened. After getting approved for TSA Precheck benefits through fingerprinting and a background check, passengers can go through the TSA Precheck security line and avoid the hassle of taking off shoes, removing laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, jackets, and belts. The line for TSA precheck is generally much faster than the regular security line.
How do You Sign Up for TSA Precheck Benefits?
Just like dealing with any other government office (think DMV), signing up for TSA precheck is a bit of a hassle. Here are the steps you need to complete for entrance into the TSA Precheck program.
Fill Out an Online Application
Filling out an application online is quick and easy. Simply go to TSA’s website and click on apply now. That will take you right to the online application.
-TSA Precheck benefits are open to U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, and Lawful Permanent Residents only.
Schedule An Appointment
After you submit your electronic application you are given the option to schedule an appointment at a TSA Precheck application center. If you live in a city it shouldn’t be a problem to find an application center near you. If you are like me and live in a small town, you will have to travel to the closest city to find a TSA application center.
There are walk-in centers available where you can fill out your application in person and then wait for an appointment. I do not recommend this option! I filled out my application online and scheduled my appointment. My appointment was quick and easy, maybe ten minutes tops. My husband went to a walk-in TSA Precheck application center and it took FOREVER. At least an hour and a half.
Make an appointment if at all possible.
-Make sure to bring your drivers license or an unexpired passport and a credit card or check to pay the $85 fee
The appointment is quick and easy. Show your driver’s license or passport, get fingerprinted, pay the fee, and you are done.
Receive TSA Pre-check Known Traveler Number
The official letter of approval can take up to three weeks to arrive in the mail after your appointment. But, if you are approved you should receive an email with your Known Traveler Number (KTN) within a few days. If you don’t get the email you can check your TSA Precheck status here on the TSA website.
Once you have your KTN you can put it on any existing flight reservation and TSA Precheck will appear on your boarding pass. For any future flights make sure you input your KTN when you book the flight.
-If you are part of an airline miles or rewards program you can save your KTN in your demographics so you don’t have to add it every time you book a flight with that particular airline.
What are the TSA Precheck Benefits?
Where do I start? There are so many reasons why you should sign up for TSA precheck.
Simple and Fast Airport Security
The obvious reason to sign up for TSA Precheck is that it simplifies and speeds up the airport security process. No one likes waiting in line. Here are the benefits of having that magic TSA Precheck printed on your boarding pass.
- A Separate line just for TSA Precheck passengers. I’ve found the TSA Precheck line to be significantly faster in all major airports.
- No need to take off your shoes, jacket, or belt.
- No need to remove your laptop or 3-1-1 compliant liquids from your bag.
- Go through a regular metal detector instead of the full-body scanner.
TSA Precheck with Kids
Navigating the airport with kids is stressful. There is so much more you have to bring and so many more things to try to keep track of than when you fly by yourself. TSA Precheck makes the whole process a little easier.
It’s so nice to not have to take off your shoes or take out your laptop and liquids. You can just throw your carry-on bag on the conveyor belt and head through the metal detector. Once through the metal detector, you aren’t holding up the line trying to get shoes back on and liquids and laptops back into bags while keeping an eye on your little ones. You just grab your carryons and go. SO MUCH EASIER.
-Kids under 12 don’t need to have their own KTN, they are automatically eligible for TSA Precheck as long their parent has TSA Precheck on their boarding pass.
For other helpful tips about traveling with little ones read- 7 Best Stroller Alternatives For Traveling With Toddlers
Saves Time When Running Late
I know I’ve already mentioned that TSA Precheck saves time but to me saving time is invaluable. I’m one of those people who is always running late. My husband jokes that when I’m actually on time I think I’m early. Yes, I’ve missed a few flights in my life. Unfortunately, TSA Precheck doesn’t help me arrive any earlier. But, when the airport is packed and the general security line seems to go on forever, the TSA Precheck line is always shorter and the line goes much faster. There is a better chance to catch a flight if you are running late.
Great Value For the Cost
The $85 cost of TSA Precheck sounds like a lot of money but your TSA Precheck is good for five years. If you only fly twice a year, the cost is less than five dollars each time you use TSA Precheck.
Many airline and travel reward credit cards offer a reimbursement for the TSA Precheck fee.
TSA Precheck Drawbacks
In the three years that I’ve used TSA Precheck, these are the only drawbacks I have come across.
- TSA Precheck lines aren’t always open or offered at every checkpoint. Every time we fly into the Dallas airport from out of the country, the first gate we get to after going through customs doesn’t have TSA Precheck. We have to either go through the regular line or walk to the next checkpoint. Outside peak travel times, Denver airport will only offer TSA Precheck at one of the two main checkpoints.
- I’ve found that in small airports like Colorado Springs and St. George, Utah, the TSA Precheck line can be longer than the regular line.
- When I signed up for TSA Precheck over three years ago, some of the budget airlines weren’t part of the program. I had several Frontier Airlines flights booked and wasn’t able to use my TSA Precheck. This isn’t much of an issue anymore because there are now more than 70 airlines and more than 200 airports in the TSA Precheck program. Here is a map of the airports and a list of the airlines in the program to look at before signing up.
Signing up for TSA Precheck benefits before your next flight is well worth the extra effort and money. I only wish I would have signed up a few years earlier.
Do you use TSA Precheck? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to leave a comment below.
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