Travel: TSA Precheck in a Nutshell

Image courtesy MicrosoftWhenever 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).

TSA Logo, public domainHere are some quick, and key, facts about TSA Precheck.

  • 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.

Photo courtesy MicrosoftMy 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? 


  1. says

    Hi Laura….because my husband and I have friends in Rosarito, in Baja Mexico and travel down there quite a bit we applied for and got our Sentri passes last year. What a difference! We can now drive easily into and out of Mexico any time we want. Of course there is never a wait going in–only coming back in the US. Now our car (and the two of us) are approved. We also have the Global Entry approval for airports but haven’t used it yet. For us the choice was a no-brainer.
    Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted…Creating A Birthday Celebration You Won’t ForgetMy Profile

    • Laura Zera says

      Yay, you’re the first person I know who has Sentri! And thank you for bringing it up, because it’s the Nexus version of the Trusted Traveler program for people who live near the southern border. Being so far north, I actually forget that there’s probably quite a lot of vehicle traffic in and out of Mexico — I always think of it as a “plane destination!”

  2. Kris McCann says

    Love the program. I initially got the NEXUS card to get across US/CANADIAN border quicker for Whistler Ski Trips. Then found out about the TSA Precheck with benefits for getting thru security at the airport. My current Nexus pass expires in September. About 1.5 months ago, I started the renewal process. My interview is in October. I was quite surprised they couldn’t see me sooner.

    • Laura Zera says

      Ooh, another good point. None of these programs are quick to process the applications, even for renewals. Starting six months in advance is not too early! Thanks, Kris.

  3. says

    You’re so funny–children heal fast! I’d knock ‘em down too to skip those odious security lines.

    I’ve never applied for TSA Precheck and yet, occasionally, my boarding pass identifies me as having it and I get to go with the cool people. Last week, my hubby had it and I didn’t but the TSA agent was nice enough to let us go together. So it still feels like a crap shoot but sometimes, you roll a lucky 7.
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    • Laura Zera says

      Eeeeeenteresting, so you’ve had a TSA agent send you to the TSA precheck lane for traffic flow reasons. I think they are doing this quite a lot now, which is going to annoy an awful lot of people who paid for the membership. But that’s the thing, there’s no guarantees with anything when it comes to airports and borders. The agents have the final word!

  4. says

    The Boise airport is so small it doesn’t even have a special lane. Gotta admit though on last week’s trip to Sante Fe, it was nice being able to go through the fast lane due to hubby’s status as well as board the plane early as well. He’s totally obsessed with getting bumped to first class though. So much so that he was ready to ditch me back in coach for our upcoming Memorial Weekend trip. Now that’s love for ya ;)
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    • Laura Zera says

      Haaa! Joke would be on him, though, if you ended up in coach seated next to Studley Studmuffin (and okay, have you heard either of those two words in the past decade? I don’t think I have, and I don’t know where they just came from!).

      From what I’m hearing, the agents are kind enough to keep parties who are traveling together in the same queues, even if one doesn’t have trusted traveler status.

  5. says

    Slug trails? Ew…yuck! But, other than that graphic detail – WONDERFUL! Your insights are always, well, insightful and I do love the way you look at life. One day I hope to travel enough to have reason to pre-check.

    As for hats, I can never find one to fit my gargantuan noggin’. :)

    • Laura Zera says

      Wait, do you have a big head too?! You’re my soul sister!!! And yeah, sorry about the slug trails imagery. I don’t like it either, but I have to live with these feet. Thanks for stopping in, Jo-Anne.

    • Laura Zera says

      You’re another lucky duck who is being offered the perks without the price! I’m guessing it’s done randomly.

    • Laura Zera says

      Haaa! It is a bit like a sci-fi movie when you go through American airports. Or wait, maybe I should say “dystopian fantasy.” I wonder if you have a similar program in Australia. Maybe I shall do some Googling, too. Let’s all Google! :)

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