TSA Pre-Check is the expedited security screening process that has been around for several years now, allowing selected travelers to leave on their shoes, and also leave their liquids and laptops in their bags. It really makes the security experience significantly more pleasant when departing the U.S. on eligible airlines.
How to get access to TSA Pre-Check
The only way to get TSA Pre-Check consistently is by enrolling in a Trusted Traveler Program. You can enroll directly in TSA Pre-Check, though it’s a much better deal to enroll in either Global Entry or NEXUS, as enrollment in those programs comes with Pre-Check (meanwhile enrollment in Pre-Check doesn’t get you Global Entry). Then you just enter your Known Traveler Number when you book your ticket, and hopefully you get Pre-Check.
However, in practice, many who aren’t enrolled in the TSA Pre-Check program still get access to the expedited screening. The TSA wants a certain number of travelers to use the lanes in order to be able to justify them, so they’ve identified low risk travelers and given them access to Pre-Check on a selective basis.
Free Pre-Check access is being reduced next week (apparently)
I know a lot of people who aren’t enrolled in Pre-Check but consistently still receive it. Well, apparently as of February 1, 2017, the TSA will significantly reduce access to Pre-Check for travelers who aren’t enrolled in a Trusted Traveler program.
So there’s a decent chance that if you’ve been relying on free Pre-Check, your luck may soon run out…
…or it may not, since this isn’t the first time the TSA has made such a threat. In 2014, the TSA said they’d begin restricting Pre-Check access to non-registered travelers. They made the same threat in April 2015. And then again in September 2015. While access may have been cut somewhat, I know there are still plenty of people getting Pre-Check for free.
There are several credit cards and airlines that reimburse you for your TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry membership fee, so if you’re eligible, there really is no reason not to apply.
Personally I’m happy to see the TSA restrict the number of non-registered travelers who have access to Pre-Check. I’m happy about it not because it reduces the number of travelers using the lanes per se, but rather because it reduces the number of infrequent travelers using the lanes, who may not be familiar with the process, and therefore slow down the line.