How to Breeze through Airport Security in 30 Seconds

Have you ever noticed -- as you're shuffling back and forth through the airport security line -- some people get to zip through a special, "fast lane," just like the airline crew members?

Today I'm going to tell you how you can do this, too, and, no, you don't need a first-class ticket or a job at Jamba Juice across from Gate 34.

The only thing you need is to be enrolled in "Pre Check," the TSA's free pre-screening program that gives you access to this speedy security lane, one that doesn't require removing your shoes, belt, laptop, jacket, and compliant liquids/gels.

The air travel experts I know absolutely love it. They say it's like the old days when you waltzed right through "security."

Unfortunately, you can't simply enroll in TSA Pre Check. It's effectively by "invitation only."

However, I know the secret to getting in right away, and soon, you will, too.

When the program launched in 2011, the only way in was to be invited by your airline (Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, United, US Airways, Virgin America), but aside from being a member of its frequent flyer program, the criteria for selection was, and still is, very black box-y.

Some airlines now let you apply for consideration, but there's no evidence that this has any effect on the likelihood or timing of getting in. In fact, you'll never hear back about your application from your airline or TSA.

That's why this secret is so valuable -- it's like sneaking onto Augusta National through the back gate.

Here it is:

Whether you travel internationally or not, apply for Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS, which are the "trusted traveler" programs run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Why? Because acceptance into one of these programs automatically qualifies you for Pre Check.

Global Entry, the one I used, requires you to complete an online application. Once accepted, you then attend an interview at a Customs and Border Patrol "enrollment center" (located at airports nationwide).

It costs $100, but certain premium credit cards (American Express Platinum, for one) and elite-level frequent flyers programs will refund or otherwise compensate you for the fee. It's that simple.

Even if you wind up paying the fee yourself, it's worth it.

Said one 100,000 miles-per-year flyer in the Wall Street Journal:

"It cuts security screening down to about 30 seconds."

What's your take on TSA Pre Check? Heard any pros or cons about it? Have you applied or are you considering it?

Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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Commented on

Kudos ! Craig. speedy airport screening is a great tip..equal to your great tips on golf venues.

Commented on gave away all my "secrets."

TSA-Pre rocks and I love, love, love Global Entry.

It wasn't evident at first (at least in the arrivals hall at Newark airport), but there is an express lane after you claim your bag, too.

Greatest thing since sliced bread.

Commented on

Another hint on Global entry is, if you apply for a Nexus card fro entry into Canada it is $50. Then global entry is free.

Commented on

I have CLEAR which is in DEN and a few others. As it is so rare I applied for GOES. Didn't want to pay another $100, but they kept sending me reminders to get an interview. I scheduled it for next month. CLEAR still requires belt/shoes off.

Commented on

I've been a Global Entry member for several years due to all the international travel I used to do. That program makes getting through customs and immigration in Los Angeles and other major US airports a breeze.

Just tried the TSA Pre that got attached to my Global Entry membership for the first time. It was a couple of weeks ago in Chicago O'Hare's terminal 3 (American Airlines), and let me say that you are absolutely right. A total of less than 30 seconds from the time I walked up to the x-ray machine until the time I was walking away with my stuff. Shoes stayed on, belt stayed on, sport coat stayed on, computer and liquids stayed in the bag - I only had to empty my pockets. I even used an electronic boarding pass on my smartphone with no problems. It was absolutely phenomenal. Gave me more time for a few beers before the flight!

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The most important thing to know is your name on the Global card, your frequent traveler profile and issued ticket must match exactly. In other words if you have John W Smith on the Global card, John Smith on the issued ticket and John Warren Smith in your frequent flier program, you will be told "random inspection - denied", when actually it is not random, it is because all info was not matching. I learned this after 5 denials, they won't tell you.

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Here are the airlines that participate:

Alaska Airlines
American Airlines
Delta Air Lines
United Airlines
US Airways
Virgin America

And a list of participating airports can be found here:

Commented on

To add on to what others have said, not at many airports and not all airlines participate. Also, a few times I've been told that it's not available for you today(some sort of random check). In theory it's great if it works. Global Entry alone is well worth it though.

Commented on

People in these programs don't tell others about them, otherwise those lines get crowded. It's like fight club. The first rule of nexus is don't talk about nexus.

Commented on

Canadians can use TSA Pre Check: from the TSA website: "<strong>As of November 15, 2012, Canadian citizens traveling domestically in the United States who are members of NEXUS are also qualified to participate in TSA Pre Check"</strong>

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