Fed up with airport security lines? Here's a PreCheck primer

While thousands of travelers moving through U.S. airports are waiting in long lines at security checkpoints and missing flights, others are breezing through special PreCheck lanes in minutes.

Anyone who flies frequently should by now have the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck expedited security clearance which allows passengers to sidestep the long lines, and walk through special lanes with no requirements to remove shoes, jackets, belts or liquids from carry-ons.

PreCheck has been around for several years, but the program is only now catching the attention of some travelers due to out-of-control wait times at airport security checkpoints  nationwide. Passengers who apply provide some personal identity information and fingerprints. Once vetted as low-risk, they are PreCheck approved, meaning, with some random exceptions, they will find TSA Pre✓ printed on their boarding passes, making them eligible to join the special lines.  

There are three ways to apply, all with fees attached. The most streamlined is the online TSA Pre✓ program, good enough for people who never fly internationally. For those who do, two other programs offer better benefits.  

Here's what you need to know, and here's a link to a handy chart comparing requirements, costs and benefits. 

TSA Pre✓ Program: 

What it does: Authorizes PreCheck expedited security clearance at U.S. airports.

Cost: $85, good for five years. 

How to apply: Complete an online application, then schedule an in-person appointment at a local application center by calling 855- 347-8371. At the time of your appointment, you'll be  fingerprinted. You'll also need documentation proving your identity and proof of citizenship or legal residency. Bring your current U.S. passport, enhanced driver's license, Green Card, or if you don't have those, a regular driver’s license (or other government photo ID and birth certificate). In the Seattle area, application centers are at  4123 4th Ave. South in Seattle and 15015 Main St. in Bellevue.  Unfortunately, TSA does not have an application center at Sea-Tac Airport although it does at some other U.S. airports. 

International travelers will find the best way to obtain PreCheck clearance is by applying for either the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection's Global Entry program, or the Canadian version, called Nexus. Both come with expedited PreCheck clearance.

Global Entry

What it does: Allows expedited entry into the U.S. from another country, including Canada. Air travelers avoid lines at customs and immigration by running their passports through special kiosks and verifying their fingerprints. Global Entry cards have radio frequency identification, which enables their use at SENTRI (Mexico) and NEXUS  (Canada) expedited travel lanes entering the U.S. Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks. 

Cost: $100, good for five years.

How to apply: Click here, fill out the online form, then wait for notification of an in-person interview. You'll have your picture taken and fingerprints scanned, and be notified of approval shortly after.


What it doesAllows for expedited airport entry into the U.S. and Canada from other countries and for land and sea border crossing into the U.S. and Canada. 

If you live near the Canadian border, this is your best bet because 1) It's half the cost of Global Entry) 2) It comes with PreCheck clearance. 3) It allows you to use fast-pass lanes when entering and leaving Canada by car, while a Global Entry card allows you to use the fast-pass Nexus lane only when leaving Canada. Yes, it's hard to wrap the brain around the idea that it's a better deal for U.S. citizens to apply for Canadian Nexus clearance than our own Global Entry, but indeed it is.

Cost: $50, good for five years.

How to apply: Same as above (The U.S. and Canada have reciprocal agreements). 

Nexus members can use PreCheck lanes at U.S. airports. In Canada, they can use "trusted traveler" airport security lanes, but must first submit to an iris scan (available at no cost at Canadian airports). I had mine scanned the last time I was in Vancouver. It took only a few minutes, and now I'm good to go.  

With demand increasing, expect a wait to be approved for any of these programs. Meanwhile, allow plenty of time at the airport to clear security this summer. Wait times have been brutal, leaving airlines and passengers fuming due to missed flights and connections. Some airports, Seattle-Tacoma included, have started taking the situation into their own hands.

The Port of Seattle recently hired 90 private contractors to assist passengers in a move to alleviate TSA's security checkpoint mess. With the summer travel season approaching,   Sea-Tac and the airlines became pro-active in taking steps to avoid a fiasco such as the one at Chicago's O'Hare International recently when 450 passengers missed their flights due to long waits at security checkpoints. 


  1. Does Global Entry include TSA pre-check, or do international travelers need both?

  2. Thanks, Skeptic. When I reread the original post, I saw that Carol had answered that question.