How Does TSA PreCheck Work? 7 FAQ

It’s one way to help reduce time spent waiting in the airport.

How Does TSA PreCheck Work? iStock

Whether at the Department of Motor Vehicles or a restaurant drive-thru, nobody enjoys waiting in line—even less so at airport security when practicing social distancing. One way to keep moving: TSA PreCheck.

For $85 for five years (as of November 2020), air travelers can use a designated security line without having to remove shoes, belts or light jackets. Apply online, undergo a background check and fingerprinting, and then let your Known Traveler Number help you speed through security.

Need help deciding whether TSA PreCheck is right for you? Here are answers to seven common questions.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is offered to qualified travelers by the Transportation Security Administration. It’s available in more than 200 airports nationwide, and more than 70 airlines participate in it (search this TSA map for specifics). As a TSA PreCheck member, you don’t need to take off your shoes, belt or light jacket when you go through airport security, and you don’t have to remove liquids or a laptop from your carry-on. More than 10 million people are TSA PreCheck members, and in October 2020, all of them waited less than five minutes, according to the TSA.

How do I apply?

It takes about five minutes to complete your application online. You provide general information, such as your name and birthdate. One important note: The name on your application must exactly match the name on your identification, and it must be the name used when making your airline reservations.

Traveling as a family? Make sure each family member 13 years and older applies—children 12 years and under don’t need it when traveling with a parent or guardian who has TSA PreCheck.

What happens next?

During your application, you’ll schedule a 10-minute in-person appointment at a TSA enrollment center. There, you will provide your identification documents, such as a passport, and get your fingerprints taken. You’ll also pay the $85 fee, which includes membership in TSA PreCheck for five years.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the TSA enrollment centers?

Some enrollment centers have closed, but many remain open, some with modified hours (specific locations and hours are available online). The TSA recommends that you make an appointment rather than just walk in. This will ensure that you receive a notification if your appointment is canceled and will allow the center to manage the number of people arriving at one time. Enrollment center staff have been trained to increase cleaning protocols, according to the TSA.

How do I check my TSA PreCheck status?

Many applicants are approved within several days of their visit to the enrollment center. You can check your status online, and you should receive written communication in approximately two to three weeks.

How do I use TSA PreCheck?

When you book a flight, make sure you enter your Known Traveler Number (also known as your KTN) in your airline flight profile. Your TSA PreCheck status will automatically be indicated on your boarding pass, allowing you to access the expedited security lines in the airport. The length of security lines differs at every airport—even with TSA PreCheck, you could still face a lengthy wait. To check wait times, get the MyTSA App.

I’ve heard about Global Entry … how does it differ from TSA PreCheck?

Global Entry from U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a similar program for international travelers. It provides expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.

Pro tip: Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, so if you apply for Global Entry first and pay $100, you can get the benefits of both programs. If you apply for TSA PreCheck first and decide later to apply for Global Entry, you will pay the $85 TSA PreCheck fee in addition to the $100 Global Entry fee.

For answers to more specific TSA PreCheck questions, including how to renew, see this TSA FAQ.

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