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9 things to know when choosing an expedited airport screening program

PreCheck
The Transportation Security Administration is offering PreCheck, a prescreening process for travelers, for $85 for five years. But not all have airports have PreCheck.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Now that the Transportation Security Administration will offer its expedited airport security screening program, which is the best way to get it — through frequent flier programs, Global Entry or the TSA itself? Should you get it at all?

On Wednesday, the TSA began offering its screening program,  called PreCheck, for $85 to travelers. If you are accepted into the program, for the ensuing five years you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt or jacket -- and you can leave your liquids and your laptop in your hand luggage.

Previously, the PreCheck program was available to frequent fliers who had achieved elite status on their airline of choice or as an added perk to Global Entry, a Customs and Border Protection program that gives fliers returning to the U.S. expedited entrance into the country after travel abroad. Global Entry costs $100 for five years.

More recently, the TSA has been choosing travelers at random for the expedited screening, to the dismay of some who bought or earned the privilege of life in the fast line.

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Should you apply for a PreCheck program? If so, which one? Here are some factors to consider:

-- If you don’t have a passport -- about two-thirds of Americans do not -- and don’t plan to get one, the TSA’s PreCheck program is the right one for you. You do not need a passport to apply for TSA’s PreCheck; you do with Global Entry.

-- If you’re never going to achieve elite flier status -- and unless you’re a business traveler or the world’s most voracious leisure traveler, you probably won’t -- choose Global Entry or TSA’s PreCheck because you’re probably not going to get it through an airline.

-- If you travel outside the country and hate long immigration lines, Global Entry with PreCheck as a bonus is the program for you.

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-- If you want to be more certain of getting expedited screening, choose one of the pay programs. Getting to go through the fast lane isn’t guaranteed for anyone; the element of surprise is part of security. But the TSA has said that you are less likely to get to use the fast line if you’re a PreCheck member by virtue of a frequent-frequent flier program.

-- If you want to apply to Global Entry for the PreCheck privilege but are annoyed by the wait time for an appointment, consider TSA’s PreCheck instead (if you don’t care about expedited re-entry into the U.S).  TSA says it ultimately will have almost 300 processing centers -- about seven times more than Global Entry -- for its program and says the wait times for an appointment should be shorter.

-- If your airport  doesn’t yet have PreCheck -- and only 102 of more than 450 commercial  airports do -- don’t apply for Global Entry or TSA’s PreCheck -- at least, not just yet. More airports will be added, but what’s the point of having the privilege if you can’t use it from your home airport?

-- If you resent paying to opt out of some kinds of screening, take your $85 or $100 and donate it to a cause you believe in.

-- If you don’t want to submit to a background check -- and Global Entry and TSA’s PreCheck both require this -- hope and pray you’ll get randomly chosen by the luck of the draw. TSA is increasingly trying to use those empty lanes that still have to be manned so your chances of getting a free pass are better than they’ve ever been.  Just make sure you know what you are supposed to do (or not supposed to do, such as take off your shoes) when you’re in one of those special lanes or you’ll risk the wrath of those who believe they’ve earned or bought their VIP status.

-- If you’ve been convicted of a serious crime, don’t apply to PreCheck or Global Entry. Not only will you suffer the humiliation of being rejected, but you also won’t get your $85 or $100 application fee back.


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