Is Free TSA Pre-Check Still Being Offered?

The two innovations of the past several years which have made the US travel experience substantially more pleasant have been TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. As a reminder, TSA Pre-Check allows eligible travelers expedited security screening, where they don’t have to take off their shoes, or take their liquids or laptops out of their bags.

TSA-Pre-Check

Meanwhile Global Entry allows for expedited customs & immigration, where eligible travelers can just use kiosks at immigration, rather than having to queue for an agent.

Global-Entry

Historically TSA Pre-Check has been limited to those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program, like TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, NEXUS, etc. However, over time they started a “managed inclusion program,” where elite members of airlines and many other passengers deemed “low risk” got access to Pre-Check as well.

While I don’t take issue with managed inclusion from a safety standpoint (since I don’t think Pre-Check is actually any less safe than the standard screening), what was annoying was the degree to which it slowed down lanes. It’s not just that they were adding people to the Pre-Check lanes, but much worse was that the people being added were largely less experienced travelers, who didn’t know “the drill.”

For the past couple of years we’ve heard about the TSA limiting Pre-Check eligibility going forward, as a means of getting people to sign up. Then last September it seemed like things were about to get a lot better, as it was reported that TSA was limiting Pre-Check to those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler program. Based on how it was reported, that should have been the end of “free” Pre-Check.

At the time I shared the following from Travel Market Report:

The TSA on Monday pulled the plug on its controversial but traveler-friendly Managed Inclusion Program, which allowed frequent travelers to use the PreCheck security lines at airports without paying the fee.

The Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck Managed Inclusion program is now officially phased out from all airports nationwide.

Well, unfortunately that’s not actually how it worked in practice, as many people have probably noticed over the past several months. The TSA is still letting non-registered passengers into Pre-Check lanes.

What gives? Via Skift:

While the agency ultimately wants to restrict the quicker lanes to only those who have enrolled in expedited security programs, that has not happened yet. And there is no time frame for doing so.

“I actually have had to reach out to a few reporters to clarify that,” said Mike England, TSA’s national spokesman. “There was a little bit of confusion.”

What has actually changed since last September, which seemed to cause this confusion?

The change in September was the end of a practice called Managed Inclusion II, which included swabbing passengers’ hands to detect traces of explosives and using behavior detection tactics before sending them into the fast lane.

But the agency continues to use Managed Inclusion I, where passengers who are screened by TSA canines can be sent to PreCheck lanes. And travelers who are not enrolled in the program may still get a TSA PreCheck designation on their boarding pass when their Secure Flight information — name, date of birth and gender — is matched against security databases.

It seems we can continue to expect lots of non-registered flyers to use the Pre-Check lanes. I will say that I’ve noticed a decrease in Pre-Check passengers compared to last September, though the change hasn’t been that drastic.

TSA-Pre-Check-1

Bottom line

It seems the restrictions on TSA Pre-Check over the past several months haven’t been as drastic as many of us have hoped. The changes have been quite minor, and involve specific aspects of the managed inclusion program.

I understand where the TSA is coming from, in the sense that a certain percentage of passengers need to use the lanes in order for them to be justifiable. At the same time, they seem a long way off their goal of 25 million travelers being enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, given that they’re at a total of ~6.2 million enrolled travelers as of now.

Don’t expect the TSA to close off Pre-Check to non-members anytime soon.

Have you noticed any change in Pre-Check lanes the past few months?

(Tip of the hat to TravelinWilly)

Comments

  1. I’m not a member of any pre-check program (as I’m not that frequent a traveler), but on a return flight from Baltimore to DFW in November, I was told that my boarding pass was approved for the “pre-check” line.

    The following month, I flew to Chicago and back, but didn’t get to jump the line, so I’m not sure why on one occasion I was approved, but not on another (it didn’t bother me either way…)

  2. I got a unregistered TSA Pre-Check the third time in a row last month. I had Global Entrance since last year, could this lead me to this? Just wondering because I always was the only one, my colleagues never got unregistered Pre-Check and had never applied to Global Entry.

  3. I found the change pretty drastic in December/January at certain airports. I breezed through BNA before Christmas with a short line for Pre-Check. LAX Delta terminals after Christmas were a madhouse. Even Priority Security lines were snaked around the terminal, but PreCheck had 5 people in it. And this has never happened to me before, but on January 2, I bypassed a huge line in CLE Hopkins waiting for security while the Pre Check area that had 5 TSA agents standing around and absolutely ZERO passengers. That blew my mind.

  4. @Robert if you have Global Entry and you enter that number into the “Known Traveler Number” that is same as TSA PreCheck.

  5. I’m only 14, but everytime I have travelled within the US for the bast 3 years I have been pre check. I used the think it was because I was under 13, but it still carries on. Getting pre check has become a joke in my family because I always get it and no one else does. I have received pre check at least 30 times in the last 2 years. I have no idea why, but I’m not complaining. It certainly makes traveling easier!

  6. Two years ago I had TSA pre check (much to my surprise) then Dec 2015 i reverted to part of the great unwashed and had to queue with everyone else despite flying J. My main complaint is the lack of consistency. I’m either trustworthy or I’m not. Make up your mind US security, stop stuffing me around!

  7. Half the time pre-check lanes are only open ‘during select hours’ anyway, including some pretty busy times of day – so whats the point

  8. Yes, the select hours issue, TSA turning up the magnetometer sensitivity (it seems to me) along with still unregistered people being sent to pre check is really making it not as good anymore. I am seeing many disabled and elderly getting pre check (and their BP is scanning as such) and not knowing what to do…

  9. I had to laugh when I found out the only reason I was sent through pre-check was I was over 65.

    It’s like they
    think terrorists retire at 65, don’t figure.

  10. We found that Delta seems to give Pre-Check to all passengers in a PNR as long as 1 is enrolled in Pre-Check / Global Entry.

  11. I’ve haven’t had any lines at security in my 6 experiences thus far this year. The one exception was at EWR when there was nobody in the regular security line and about a dozen in the precheck line who just didn’t want to take off their shoes or laptops. I waited in the precheck line too!

  12. Over the last 2-3 years, I have always had pre-check when leaving DFW (home); however, when coming back to Dallas I only get it on occasion.

  13. I finally decided to join the 21st century and get Global Entry in October, so I don’t really have a before/after comparison. Anecdotally, though, seems like the TSA is making Precheck more difficult for those who have actually paid to join the program. I’ve flown seven segments since joining, and three times, I’ve gotten no benefit. DFW in particular seems to have the magnetometers set to trigger “random” screening way too often; last time I went through, out of 4 people who went through about the same time I did, 3 were selected “randomly”. Global Entry has been a godsend, but I’m seriously beginning to wonder what the benefit to Precheck is if you don’t receive any benefit from using it half the time…

  14. The only change I’ve noticed is that it seems they’re letting *more* non-registered people into the pre-check lane. And from my experience they all seem to be people who can’t comprehend basic instructions! Last time I flew this was exemplified by the man who thought “leave your laptop in your bag” meant “carry your cellphone in hand through the metal detector”. *smh*

  15. In the security line at SEA and got pre check even though I’m not enrolled. I won’t be turning it down

  16. I’m Delta Diamond. Got pre-check 99 out of 100 times over the past 6 years or so, until that first round of announcements where they said my status would no longer qualify (I think that was about a year ago). I sat tight, got no pre-check for about four flights, and then started getting pre-check again. Woo-hoo. Then, they rattled the sabres one more time about four months ago. And again, no pre-check for about four flights, but pre-check every time since.

    I know they’re trying to get my $85, but I’m happy to sit out a few rounds when they do their pledge drives.

  17. It’s odd how some airports like IAH and YYZ international transit passengers don’t have a pre check capability. It’s sometimes easier to leave the airport and come back in to take advantage of the pre check which otherwise wouldn’t occur in transit. In Canada also Nexus and Global Entry seem to be treated the same. Alas with so many folks signing up pre check isn’t that fast anymore. Pre Pre check anyone or is that pre posterous?

  18. Two trips ago, I was assigned pre-check but my husband was not. He got through security before I did (SFO). I tried to go through regular security with him on another trip (IAD) but was vigorously opposed by the person who looked at my boarding pass. Weird that wanting to take off shoes, etc, is denied when requested IMHO. (We got through about the same time when I went ahead with pre-check and he went through the regular screening).

  19. I really want to apply for the Pre-Check however since I’m not an US citizen or Green Card holder therefore i’m not able to apply since you have to be either US citizen or green card to apply for it so I’m relying on the free pre check, hopefully one day they will allow us(F/H/L visa holder) to apply for the precheck.

  20. I am a Trusted Traveler through NEXUS and always get PreCheck. I recently bought two tickets for my siblings (different last names) on American (I almost always fly Delta) and they both got PreCheck for their RT flights. Neither one has flown anywhere in the last 24 years. I don’t know if they got it because I bought the tickets or randomly. They had it when they printed their boarding passes.

  21. I was one of the first to get a NEXUS card (I selected this card because I make frequent trips via car to Canada). At first I was blown away at how much better the airport experience was – specifically the pre-check line, which one could breeze through at SEA in three minutes or less. Not anymore. Thanks to managed inclusion, the wait times are getting longer and longer. Last time I flew, it was a 20 minute wait to get through security. The biggest issue is that the folks chosen for managed inclusion have no idea what to do. They hold up the line by taking off shoes, pulling out laptops, etc. At times there’s a TSA rep yelling out instructions to everyone and at other times there’s not – doesn’t seem to make a difference in the behaviors. Chaos and confusion reign, and meanwhile, the lines get longer and longer. Thanks TSA for messing up this program for those who actually applied, went through the process and paid to be involved!

  22. TSA Pre is great, until the airport I fly out of decided they could not support the extra staff requirements (?) and dropped the service. I get to keep my shoes on, but everything comes out of the bag again. May be coming to your airport soon.

  23. TSA pre is still worth it. But the inclusion of the uninitiated is a serious problem.

    I travel every week and I would estimate that half the folks in the pre line have zero clue about what to do.

    And the “random” select is far too frequent to be considered truly random.

    Just another day in an agency that is not exactly known for its efficiency.

  24. I have noticed some clueless passengers, and others in line do not help inform them of what they should be doing. If you’re in line, I think the clueless would appreciate it if you told them to leave their belt and shoes on, and laptop in the bag.

  25. As an employee of one of the three big USA airlines who travels very, very frequently I can attest that free PreCheck is alive and well. It is so alive that the last two times I traveled I chose the non PreCheck line as it was shorter. I travel with a Surface4 so don’t have to take that out of my bag and at the scanner and I simply show my PreCheck boarding card to the TSA at screening and can go through the metal detector as opposed to the scanner…with my shoes on.

  26. I am a frequent flyer and do not have or want TSA PreCheck. I get PreCheck about 85% of the time anyway.
    I do not want to be fingerprinted. People have gone to prison because their fingerprints were similar to the real criminal. Also, I don’t want my fingerprints in a database only to be hacked and published.

    On those occasions when I don’t get TSA PreCheck, I always “Opt Out” of the barbecue / x-ray machine.

  27. I paid the $85, did the fingerprinting and I want my money back. TSA is allowing so many people into the pre-check lines and it is not fair that they get into the lines for free while I had to provide fingerprints, perform a TSA interview and possibly have a background check done on me. Wasn’t the intent of the Pre-Check program to allow “low risk” passengers the right to expedited screening. How does TSA ensure that the pre-check freebie customers are low risk? What a mess. And why is it that pre-check is handled differently from airport to airport. For example Albany International makes everyone go into one line until you show the TSA agent your license and boarding pass, from that point on you go to a different conveyor belt if you have pre-check on your boarding pass. But even pre-check customers must remove computers from bags. I’ll say it again, I want my $85 back especially since I will probably still get free pre-check.

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