Five Useful Things I Learned About TSA Precheck

At the end of a long Tuesday at in June, I stopped off to visit with the TSA Precheck team. This was a friendly and happy group, and more importantly, I was filled with all kinds of information about Precheck that I didn’t know or hadn’t heard confirmed. This should be a useful post for anyone who has or is considering getting Precheck or one of the other services that provides it, like Global Entry.

It’s TSA Precheck

Do you hate the emoji check mark in the Precheck name above? You are not alone. It sounds like there are plenty of people even on the inside who wouldn’t mind getting rid of that as well, at least in print. (The logo is fine.) If you don’t want to use the check, what’s the proper name? Behold:

TSA Precheck

Precheck is one word with only the P capitalized. That’s the official way to write it. (And yes, I realize I’m leaving off the “TSA” in most mentions below. It just feels less clunky that way even if it’s not officially approved.)

$15 Isn’t the Only Reason to Apply for TSA Precheck

When I first applied for Global Entry — the service that gets you fast passage through customs and immigration as well as Precheck — there wasn’t another option. But for the last few years, you’ve been able choose either Global Entry for $100 for five years or TSA Precheck alone for $85 for five years.

I always thought it was silly to apply for Precheck alone, because for $15 you could sail through customs and immigration for five years as well. But the TSA team had plenty of reasons why you might want to consider Precheck instead of Global Entry.

  • Enrollment is much quicker. With Global Entry, you may have to wait months to do an interview. With Precheck, you are usually done with the entire process in less than a week.
  • There are more places to enroll. You have to do an interview with either service, but Global Entry has far fewer locations to actually conduct one. I looked for a friend in Indiana, for example, and there isn’t a single place to interview in the entire state. Precheck has at least 10.
  • It’s easier to get approved. Global Entry is much more strict with who is allowed into the program compared to Precheck. Someone may have minor offenses that would disqualify him or her from getting Global Entry but not from getting Precheck. If you’ve smuggled in cigars from Cuba or worked in the weed business in a state where it’s legal, you may want to think about that.

You Should Always Get It When You Fly

If you have Precheck (whether directly or through Global Entry, etc) you should pretty much always get it when you fly. Technically, it’s 99.9 percent of the time, but it’s not like the early days where you heard people say that it wasn’t guaranteed. You should get it.

What if you don’t? Well, chances are there’s a middle name mismatch or your birthday was typed wrong or something like that. You should always check in online early, because if you don’t get it, you’ll then have time to get the reservation fixed.

If you aren’t sure what the problem is, tweet . They’re around 5am to 7pm PT on weekdays and 6am to 4pm PT on weekends and holidays. If you provide your record locator, they can hunt down the problem and help you figure out how to fix it. I’m told they’re actually quite responsive, but I haven’t reached out.

You Probably Aren’t Getting It Unless You Apply

Many people remember the early days of the program where frequent fliers in some airline programs were automatically given Precheck status. The thing is, they weren’t actually enrolled in the program. It was just a way to populate those new lanes with people who were considered to be low risk. With 18 million people enrolled between Precheck and Global Entry alone, they don’t need that anymore. The frequent flier program option has been shut off entirely for awhile now.

Further, there used to be a broad program called “managed inclusion” where they could do a threat assessment and opt some people into the lines even if they hadn’t applied for the program. Congress didn’t like that, so while it’s still technically in place, it has been dialed down significantly. Only the squeakiest of the squeaky clean may get lucky, and even that isn’t likely to last much longer. The point is, if you want to get Precheck, then you need to apply for the program.

Even if Your Boarding Pass Says Precheck, You Might Not Have It

Did you still get Precheck on your boarding pass even though you don’t have it? You might not have actually gotten it. Even though managed inclusion is going away, TSA is testing out a new option that would create separate screening lanes for those who are deemed to be the lowest threats but aren’t in Precheck. In some of these tests, the boarding passes may still say Precheck on them today, but then you’ll be directed to a regular line by the document checkers. Eventually, that will stop showing up on the boarding pass and it will just be managed by the document checkers when they scan the boarding pass. But this is NOT Precheck.

Again, if you want Precheck, you have to apply.

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