Lines. Don’t you just love them? Me neither. Unfortunately they’re a part of air travel, and one that can be hard to predict, as well as being time consuming and frustrating. There are ways to reduce the amount of time you spend in lines for TSA and Customs; in fact there’s quite a few different programs, making it a little confusing. Hopefully this will help.
Pre-Check is currently available at over 180 airports in the US. The TSA randomly chooses which travelers get to move through expedited screening. There are no “absolutes” as TSA incorporates random and unpredictable security measures; no one is guaranteed expedited screening. Prior to April 2015, you could opt into the program as an Elite frequent flyer. But since then, all travelers without a Known Traveler Number (KTN), PASS ID (more about this below) or DoD ID (for active military), are less likely to be chosen for Pre Check. While you may get selected for the Pre-Check line (it’s like getting a little gift at check-in!), if you want to increase the odds and nearly always zip through security, you should apply for a Trusted Traveler program. And then, be sure that your Trusted Traveler Number is correctly entered into your airline account or ticket profile at least 24 hours prior to departure, so you’re correctly identified as a trusted traveler. Once you’ve checked in, you can’t add or update your information.
The Department of Homeland Security administers several Trusted Traveler programs. To participate in one of these programs, you apply for enrollment, and pay a fee. Your application is pre-screened, and if no issues are found, you are invited for an interview at which biometric information, such as a fingerprint scan, is taken. Once you pass these steps the applicable Trusted Traveler number is issued. Which program is best for you depends on the type and frequency of your travels. There’s a link to the DHS website on the Resources tab. Here’s a summary of the primary programs available to US Citizens and lawful permanent US Residents:
|TSA||Customs and Border Protection (CBP)|
|Program||TSA Pre✓®||Global Entry||NEXUS||SENTRI|
|Primary Travel||By air, within the US||Both within the US and Internationally||Between the US and Canada||By land into the US from Mexico|
|Application Fee (5 year membership)||$85.00||$100.00||$50.00||$122.25|
|Passport Required||No||Yes; or lawful permanent resident card||No||No|
|ID||KTN||PASS ID||PASS ID||–|
|Program Benefits||TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening at participating airports.||Expedited processing through CBP at airports and land borders upon arrival in the U.S..
Includes TSA Pre✓™
|Expedited processing at airports and land borders when entering the U.S. and Canada.
Includes Global Entry and TSA Pre✓™
|Expedited processing through CBP into U.S. at land borders.
Includes Global Entry and TSA Pre✓™
The NEXUS program is a real bargain, including Pre-Check and Global Entry with entry into Canada, for half the price! Unfortunately, it requires an interview that’s only available in Canada or northern tier states, making it effectively realistic only to residents of those states, or those who travel there frequently. Global Entry, at $15 more than Pre-Check is a great deal. Even if you don’t have plans to travel internationally now, who knows what you could decide over the next 5 years?
If you expect to take even a couple of trips in the next year, it is well worth your time and money to begin the application process NOW! Interviews may not be immediately available, and once you have had your interview and given your fingerprints, it can take days to weeks for your application to be processed and to receive your credentials. It’s common for the process to take a couple of months, and don’t be surprised if it takes as much as six months altogether.
If you’re planning to travel internationally, one thing you can do immediately, and for free, is to download the mobile passport app to your android or iPhone. You’ll scan in your passport information, take a photo of yourself, and then, when you are returning from your trip, enter your trip information (instead of filling out the paper Customs declaration form). Then, you’ll submit the information wirelessly to CBP. Within moments, they’ll send a receipt with a barcode which gets scanned by a CBP officer, allowing you to skip the slower passport control lines!