Whenever I’m in an airport or about to cross a border, my collectivist cultural outlook goes out the car, plane or train window. Elite status? Yes, please. Fast-pass lane? I’m there. Step on some children’s hands in the process of queue jumping? If I must. (Oh, come on, they’re children, they heal quickly.)
There are four flavors of the trusted traveler designation for Canada and the United States, depending on how you want to sign up – TSA Pre✓™ Application Program, Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI (here’s a comparison chart). Like Neapolitan ice cream, they kind of melt together; membership in one can give you the benefits of the others. And, like Neopolitan ice cream that’s doled out by your mother, sometimes even when you’ve eaten all your vegetables, the benefits can be withheld completely. Just remember that Trusted Traveler program membership doesn’t actually elevate your rights as a citizen, and you’ll get along fine.
I first joined in 2002, when I was still up in Canada, and dating an American (now my husband). Just try driving across the border in peak-travel August for a first date; I was two-and-a-half hours late (and he waited). After our third date, I applied for Nexus, and now enjoy the extra benefits of using the Global Entry kiosks and TSA Precheck lanes in U.S. airports (when the government employees want to let me).
- Eleven airlines currently participate: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.
- There are now 118 airports in the U.S. with Precheck security lanes. The list is here.
- TSA Precheck lanes aren’t always open. Fly at 10:30 at night, and you might have to schlep through security with the common folk.
- With TSA Precheck, you don’t have to remove your shoes, belts and light outerwear, and you can leave your laptop and clear zip-top bags of liquids and gels in your carry-on luggage. This is fantastic for me, especially when I’m traveling sans socks, as the slug trails that my sweaty feet leave on the airport floor could potentially flag me as a dubious sort who is shifty and nervous. Yeah, I’ll pay three times the membership fee for the privilege of leaving my shoes on (and now that you’ve just contemplated having to follow in the footsteps of people like me in the airport security area, you probably will, too).
- The airline must have your Trusted Traveler program number ahead of time, so make sure it is saved in your profile details with each airline. If the airline doesn’t have it, you won’t get the “TSA Precheck” indicator printed on your boarding pass when you show up at the airport.
- Sometimes your boarding pass will still have the TSA Precheck indicator even if there’s no Precheck program (and lane) at that particular airport, so don’t drive yourself crazy looking for it.
- TSA agents still act as traffic cops, in that if the regular lines are super busy, they can route anybody they want over to the Precheck line (it’s usually families with children and wheelchair-bound passengers). And, if they want you to go in a regular line, even with your fancy-shmancy Precheck membership and indicator on your boarding pass, they can send you to a regular line.
My opinion is that TSA Precheck helps if you fly regularly within the United States, e.g., frequent business trips. For the average person, it’s probably not worth the hassle and cost of getting a membership. However, if you drive across borders a lot, like I do, then getting into the Nexus program, with its add-on benefits of Global Entry and TSA Precheck, makes a whole lot of sense.
What are your thoughts on TSA Precheck or the other U.S. Trusted Traveler programs?