A couple of years ago I was traveling a lot by airplane. During that 18-month period the federal government instituted something called TSA Precheck. In essence, it allows you go to through a pre-approved line where you don’t have to take off your shoes, remove things from your laptop, and a host of other things while going through a special line that gets you through the entire process much faster than the norm.

TSA Precheck process

At that time they were giving out random free prechecks to frequent flyers and every once in a while someone else would get a surprise or two. As time has progressed they’re doing that less and less, and since I’m about to go on a trip to a convention I decided it was time to go ahead and pay for the service. This is my description of the process.

The first thing should have happened before I went to the airport. I’d read an article about signing up for the precheck but there was nothing saying that we should make an appointment online first before we go. The reason you do that is because when you show up at the TSA counter, the first two things the person will say to you is how long your wait is and that anyone who had an appointment will come before you, no matter how long you’ve been sitting there. I got lucky that no one had made an appointment around the time I got there, so I lucked out on that one.

The article also said we needed to have a passport, birth certificate and driver’s license. It turned out that all I really needed was my passport since that’s what I had, which means the 45 minutes I spent looking for my birth certificate was a major waste of time. My driver’s license wasn’t needed, but that’s probably because the passport has a picture on it. So if you’re going with your birth certificate your license will probably be used to verify that it’s you.

They put your full birth name into the system, and it turns out to be a very important thing for you to remember. Because the TSA precheck number will be aligned with your full birth name, any airline reservations you make need to be made in your full name. This means if you have an airline rewards card or an account on something like Orbitz you need to go in and update your information if you don’t have your middle name listed.

You have to answer a series of questions verifying your demographic information and your citizenship. These were standard questions most of us have answered multiple times, but in this case everything’s on the computer instead of your having to write anything down.

After that it’s fingerprint time. I wanted to balk at this except I remembered that my fingerprints are already on the passport and, being a military kid, the federal government already had them as well. However, instead of an ink pad, now they use an electronic scanning device. The lady had to do mine a couple of times to get it to take, finally wiping off the screen because others had used it before me, and asking me to wipe my hands with a wet napkin she gave me.

The final thing is paying $85 for the right to be a precheck member. I showed up with $100 cash, but it turns out they don’t accept cash, only credit cards. That wasn’t a big deal so I went ahead and put it on my AmEx card to make it easy for my accountant to catch it come tax time next year.

That was that… except when it was over, I was sent to the airport security office where, by showing my receipt, they validated my parking pass and, for the first time ever, I got my parking for free.

Supposedly within a week or two I’ll receive a letter with the TSA precheck number that I’m supposed to give out or add to any airline reservations I make online. They don’t send you a card, so you’ll have to notate your number somewhere so you’ll be able to access it easily enough.

That’s the process. It took about 15 minutes but it lasts for 5 years and it’ll make flying so much easier. In my opinion, paying for that little perk is worth the money if you’re going to fly a lot, or even just once a year.

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