TSA Precheck Guide

The steps you take before boarding your flight are necessary but no less stressful. You show up long before your departure time only to wait – not in the terminal – but in crowded lines leading to security check. Long security lines can take the fun out of flying, but there is another option – TSA Precheck.

Staying up to date on the requirements for TSA Precheck and the steps to be approved will help you to move through security more quickly.

TSA Precheck explained

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that works to protect America’s transportation systems, especially air travel. Since 2001, the TSA has been responsible for screening passengers, luggage and cargo before they board an aircraft.

While the TSA works to move passengers quickly through the security checkpoint at airports, long lines still form, especially at the busiest airports, as it struggles to keep up with the volume passengers who fly every day — over 2.7 million people daily, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Fortunately, the TSA rolled out a new program called TSA Precheck in 2011 to combat the long lines at airport security checkpoints. TSA Precheck allows you to be pre-screened before you fly so you can skip the main security line. Instead, you’ll go through an expedited security screening where you’re not required to take off your shoes, belt and light jacket or remove your laptop and liquids from your bags.

This expedited screening is usually paired with a shorter line, letting you speed through security and get to your gate even quicker. The TSA reports that in January 2020, 94% of TSA Precheck passengers waited less than five minutes to be screened. Expedited screenings are available in more than 200 airports with 73 partner airlines, giving you ample opportunity to take advantage of the program.

TSA Precheck eligibility

TSA Precheck is available for U.S. citizens, nationals and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). However, you may be ineligible if your application contains incomplete or false information, you’ve violated transportation security regulations or you’ve committed a disqualifying criminal offense. These offenses may either permanently or temporarily disqualify you from TSA Precheck and other Trusted Traveler Programs.

If you’re traveling with your family, children under 12 can accompany you through the TSA Precheck screening without having to apply for the program. Anyone 13 and older will have to go through the application process and be approved individually before they can go through the Precheck line. Family members over 12 years old who do not have TSA Precheck on their boarding pass will have to wait in the regular security line.

Steps to apply for TSA Precheck

If you want to take advantage of TSA Precheck for an upcoming flight, give yourself plenty of time to go through the application process and receive an answer. Even though many people receive their approval within just a few days, you shouldn’t rely on a quick approval before you fly. The TSA reports that the approval process for most applicants takes two or three weeks. Once you are approved, you can use TSA Precheck for five years before you need to renew it.

While the wait for an answer may take a while, the application itself is fairly straightforward.

  1. Compare Trusted Traveler Programs. Before you apply for TSA Precheck, the TSA recommends that you check other Trusted Traveler Programs to make sure you are choosing the one that best fits your travel needs. Global Entry, NEXUS and Sentri are designed for individuals traveling internationally and include TSA Precheck in the application. FAST is for truck drivers who commute between the United States and Canada or Mexico, but it does not include TSA Precheck. Each program has different eligibility requirements, uses and application fees that you should consider before making a decision.
  2. Provide your applicant information. The online application is designed to only take five minutes to fill out. You’ll provide basic information about yourself including your legal name, gender, date of birth, preferred language and contact information. Your legal name must match all of the forms of identification you use to verify your identity later in the process. You’ll also be asked questions about your identity, your physical attributes and your current and previous addresses.
  3. Answer program eligibility questions. Next, you’ll be asked six questions to determine your eligibility for the program, including your United States resident status and your criminal history.
  4. Select your identifying documents. The TSA provides a list of acceptable identification documents that you can bring to your in-person enrollment screening, so select whichever you know you have on hand. If your current name doesn’t match what’s on your birth certificate, you’ll also need to bring the legal documents (like a marriage certificate if your name changed due to marriage) verifying your name change.
  5. Complete your application at an enrollment center. When you complete your online application, you’ll set up a 10-minute appointment at an enrollment center to complete your application. There are currently over 400 enrollments centers around the country, and the online application will point you to the nearest one. At this screening, you’ll provide your identification documents and fingerprint to verify your identity and background.
  6. Pay the $85 application fee. After you complete your screening, you’ll pay the application fee of $85 at the enrollment center to complete your application. If you’re approved, you’ll receive written notification usually within two or three weeks. You can also check your application online at any time.

What to do after approval

Once you’re approved for TSA Precheck, you’ll receive your known traveler number (KTN), which is good for five years. You’ll need to provide this number on all of your airline reservations to be able to use the service at the airport. If you already had a trip booked before you were approved, you can add your KTN to your reservation by calling the airline or managing your reservation online.

When you provide your KTN, your boarding pass will have TSA Precheck printed on the ticket and embedded in the bar code. If a Precheck-dedicated security line is available at your terminal, your boarding pass will allow you to use it. If a separate line is not available, you can show your TSA Precheck boarding pass to receive expedited screening through the regular security line.

If you’re flying internationally, TSA Precheck can still help you get through security faster at U.S. airports, but it will not help with customs. Instead, you should consider Global Entry, which expedites your clearance through customs while also providing TSA Precheck.

In a nutshell

At only $85 dollars for five years, TSA Precheck is a worthwhile investment for everyone who flies regularly. You’ll save yourself time and stress by moving quickly through the TSA checkpoints at airports and getting to your gate sooner so you can relax and enjoy your trip.

Trevor Wallis

Contributing Writer

Trevor Wallis is a St. Louis-based personal finance writer who teaches people how to achieve freedom through good money practices. He’s written for The Simple Dollar, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Rewards Credit Cards and Online Loans. When he isn’t writing, he’s roasting specialty coffee and planning new ways to use credit card rewards to explore the world with his wife and newborn son.