TSA Opens Enrollment to Airport Security "Fast Lanes"...and Why You Shouldn't Apply

Many of you who took my advice said it actually put some fun back into air travel (or at least took a lot of the misery out of it).

So, the TSA's recent decision to open up its "fast lane" program to anyone who wants to apply would seem like a good thing...but here's why you shouldn't do it.

First, if you're unfamiliar, those airport security fast lanes are for members of Pre Check, low-risk travelers defined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

If you didn't use my backdoor secret -- joining an international traveler program like Global Entry which auto-enrolls you into TSA Pre Check -- getting into Pre Check alone used to be a mysterious process.

You either had to be invited by, or apply through, your frequent flier program, but both methods essentially amounted to crossing-your-fingers and waiting indefinitely.

But starting late last year, TSA began aggressively expanding its Pre Check program, allowing you to apply online and at a growing network of in-person enrollment centers. The price is $85 for five years of membership.

That's the good news.

The bad news is, even if you're accepted into TSA Pre Check this way, you don't always get Pre Check clearance (i.e. use of the "fast lane") for a given flight.

This can really bite you in the butt if you don't leave enough time to get through the regular security line or if you pack your liquids according to Pre Check's looser guidelines.

(Always check your boarding pass for the Pre Check logo long before you head to the airport.)

That's why I stand by my earlier recommendation -- instead of joining TSA Pre Check directly, join a program like Global Entry that automatically qualifies you for it.

This isn't perfect either -- in fact, I didn't get into the Pre Check lane for my flight today -- but according to TSA's press secretary Ross Feinstein, as a member of a "Trusted Traveler" program like Global Entry, you are more likely to be selected for Pre Check on domestic flights.

Global Entry costs $100 for five years (it's refundable for Amex Platinum members) but I think the better Pre Check odds -- not to mention making international travel a breeze -- are well worth the extra $15.

Do you have any experience with TSA Pre Check, Global Entry, or other Trusted Traveler programs? Thinking about applying?

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, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
23 Comments
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Steve

Can I use my sentry pass in the TSA Line to fly from San Diego to Dallas

Stephen

Just another tax that allows the elite to pass on through. No thanks. I will continue to resist the the TSA tyranny and I will continue to opt out. If enough people took this approach, reasonable changes might be achieved.

carl r graziano

Mexico just started its version of Global entry system. I pays to apply if you frequently travel to Mexico

Dan Brantley

It's all about time. The first time I returned from overseas and entered the customs area at JFK… and walked past 600 people in line to use the Global Entry Kiosk… it was worth every penny!

Rick

Traveled United recently and both wife and I had pre approved check for TSA but on return I had it and she did not therefore splitting us up. Mixing up carry on luggage, passports and had to wait any way for her to check thru and 10 minutes so that sucks!

John G

Thanks to Steve for the money-saving suggestion above -- about signing up for Nexus. However, as I look at the instructions it looks like you need to show up in person for an interview, and there is a relatively short list of places where you can do that -- all relatively close to the US/Canada border. So if you're from the US (like me) and live in Seattle or Detroit or Niagra Falls, you're in pretty good shape. Otherwise, it looks like you should use the GOES approach. Please correct me if this is mistaken!

Perry

I don't think it has any advantage. Currently they only provide little bowls for items needing XRay attention and more often then not you need to put large items through; coats, hats, shoes (good shoes are held together with nails and that is a no no) except sneakers, etc.
You do not need to take off a belt unless it has a large buckle but do need to put metal items in those teeny bowls and I have had those get hung up inside the XRay machine.

So I deliberately go through the regular line most times.

sy

lol
clearly Jack disses the system because he doesn't want anyone else to join and slow him down. We see right thru u JACk(ass)

Julie Still

Using Pre for work travel and it's definitely helped me get through screening faster. However, it's inconsistently applied - some airports allow Pre to go through with liquids and computer in bag, others don't. Also, there are many airports that don't offer it at all, so it's a marginal benefit overall, for my travel.

Steve

I concur with the commenters who recommend the Global Sentry program - it is totally worth it. However, it does not cost $100. Through the GOES website, you can elect to join NEXUS, the Canadian program. NEXUS costs $50 and automatically qualifies you for Global Sentry - go figure. Therefore, you can get the benefit of Canada and U.S. Trusted Traveller programs for $50 and enjoy the full, "right-this-way-sir", treatment. Lastly, for an additional $20 or $25, you can also opt for Sentri, which allows the same ingress/egress privileges for Mexico. I believe the the Netherlands and S.Korea are also implementing programs. As more countries join the Trusted Traveller consortium, it makes sense to check the GOES application process very carefully before paying $100 and only applying for Global Sentry.

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TSA Opens Enrollment to Airport Security "Fast Lanes"...and Why You Shouldn't Apply
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