Teresa McUsic

TSA makes it harder to zip through airport security without PreCheck

Starting this month, the Transportation Security Administration is cutting back on the number of travelers not enrolled in its PreCheck program allowed in faster security lines.
Starting this month, the Transportation Security Administration is cutting back on the number of travelers not enrolled in its PreCheck program allowed in faster security lines. Star-Telegram archives

PreCheck, the federal program that gets you through airport security more quickly, may become more important than ever after last weekend’s protests clogged DFW and other airports following President Trump’s new travel restrictions on some foreign passengers.

Also starting this month, the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees PreCheck, announced it will be cutting back on nonenrolled people that were allowed through the faster security line.

Previously, TSA said it used a combination of intelligence, itinerary and biographic information provided by a traveler when they made an airline reservation to assess passenger risk, said Carrie Harmon, regional spokeswoman for TSA.

“Depending on the risk-based calculation, a passenger might have received expedited screening on a flight-by-flight basis,” she said. In other words, you might have been allowed in the PreCheck line without enrolling.

This happened to me a number of times in the past few years, even though I was not a PreCheck member. Often it was when I was traveling with my husband, who was a member, but occasionally I was bumped to the PreCheck line even when traveling alone.

That won’t happen anymore,

“Starting in early February, TSA will significantly reduce access to TSA PreCheck expedited screening for nonenrolled travelers,” Harmon said. “In the future, we intend to only have enrolled or pre-vetted passengers, or those screened by K9s (trained dogs that can sniff out explosives) in the expedited screening lanes.”

Harmon said TSA does not expect longer lines for regular security because of the shift in PreCheck allowance.

“We do not anticipate that this will affect lines because the mitigating measures we put in place last year are still in place,” she said. “That said, TSA will monitor the operational impacts of these changes on airport checkpoints and on TSA PreCheck enrollment capabilities and adjust resources accordingly.”

Eleven more airlines were added to the PreCheck program last month, including some that operate at DFW, putting the total number of airlines in the program at 30. Among the new joiners at DFW are Spirit, Avianca, Emirates, Boutique and Sun Country.

They join 11 other airlines with DFW service already in the program, including American Airlines, Delta and United.

There are a number of advantages to being in the PreCheck program.

Wait time in PreCheck lines in December was less than five minutes for 97 percent of passengers, according to TSA. PreCheck lines are available at 180 airports in the country, including most major ones. (At DFW, PreCheck lanes are available at five checkpoints in terminals A,C, D and E.)

PreCheck enrollees also do not have to take off their shoes or any clothing such as jackets or belts when going through security and your laptop and liquids can stay inside your bags.

Signing up for the PreCheck program is easy, but know that there is an $85 fee that covers five years of enrollment.

There are a number of credit cards and travel loyalty programs that will pick up that fee, however. Certain MasterCard and American Express cards will provide a statement credit for the fee (though these cards usually have high annual fees attached to them.)

Also, Hilton HHonors, United MileagePlus and Orbitz Rewards points can be cashed in to cover the PreCheck fee. For a complete list of cards and programs that waive the fee, go to www.tsa.gov/precheck/credit-card-offer.

PreCheck processing sites have been at DFW since April 2014, Harmon said. There are two enrollment centers there, one in the public area of Terminal D and another in the secure area of Terminal C.

Since processing began, around 71,000 people have enrolled at the two centers, Harmon said. Nationally, more than 4 million have signed up for PreCheck.

A third local center, at 8713 Airport Freeway, just north of the old North Hills Mall site in North Richland Hills, opened later in 2014.

You can fill out an application online at www.tsa.gov and make an appointment at one of the centers. Those appointments process your identity paperwork and get your fingerprints, which takes about 10 minutes.

After that, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN), which you input when making an airline reservation. Your boarding pass will flag you as a PreCheck member, which you show at the security gate to get in the PreCheck line.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has other programs that can put you in the PreCheck line, including Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri. These programs also allow for faster lines when entering the country. Global Entry costs $100 for five years and is processed at Terminal D at DFW.

To sign up for any of these programs, go to www.tsa.gov. Appointments to process identity paperwork and get your fingerprints take about 10 minutes can be made online.

If you are a frequent traveler, this may be a program worth signing up for.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Airlines offer PreCheck

At DFW Airport: AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Avianca, Boutique, Delta, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Frontier, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Sun Country Airlines, United, West Jet

At Dallas Love Field: Delta, Southwest, Virgin America