TSA Pre-Check is Fantastic for Families

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While I am 100% confident that the process of getting a rental car is the worst part of traveling with a little one (especially when you are by yourself), getting through security can sometimes come in a relatively close second.  We have all been in the seemingly never-ending security line that wraps around and around and around and barely moves.  It is like waiting for Dumbo at Disneyland only there is no flying elephant at the end – just a body scanner or a patdown.  The process of waiting in a long line is not at all fun if you are by yourself, but when you have a toddler or infant with you, standing in a long boring line with your kid and all your stuff can be extremely difficult.  Multiply that by a million if they happen to be throwing a fit.

Then once you get through the sometimes very long line, you still need to suddenly sprout octopus arms to hold your kid, take off your shoes, take the liquids out of your bag, remove any coats or belts, take the laptop out of your purse, fold up the stroller, get their milk/formula/juice out, etc.  Doing all this by yourself while holding a kid is….fun?

Thankfully there is a potential solution to part of the problem.  If you have traveled much lately, you have probably heard of TSA PreCheck.  If you haven’t heard of it, or still aren’t familiar with the program, then keep reading.  With PreCheck you can use a dedicated screening lane for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.  This would be a huge help when traveling with a kid!  You also get to go through the walk-through metal detector instead of the body scanner.  You get to do that with kids anyway, but it is a big benefit when you are without your kids – especially if you regularly opt out like me.

Children 12 and under are eligible for PreCheck when traveling with an eligible adult, so my kiddo will get the benefits when she travels with me.  Hurray!  To further emphasize how helpful this can be, here is a summary of an email from a dad who recently traveled with his special needs toddler:

Security in Austin took about 25 minutes for us and our toddler.  We waited in line, had to take out all liquids (including baby food and medications), take off shoes and laptop, everyone has to get a full pat down due to baby liquids that can’t be opened, watch while other liquids are opened and potentially contaminated.  All the liquid bags were run through the explosive detection system, and then everything had to be repacked.

Contrast this with using PreCheck at LAX on our return home.  There was no waiting and no line, we didn’t have to take off shoes or get our laptop out.  We didn’t have to take our liquids out of our bags.  For our excess liquids for our son, a quick explosive detection was done on the outside of the bag and that was it.  The whole thing took just a couple minutes and we were on our way.

To me, that is a description of night and day, and it makes a world of difference in getting a trip off to a good start.  Now that you are (potentially) interested in this program, here are some answers to a few questions you might have.  Many of the answers below are taken directly from the TSA website, but I will add in my own experience/interpretation/advice.

Where/when does PreCheck work?

Certain frequent travelers from Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways and certain members of CBP’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens, are eligible to participate in this program, which could qualify them for expedited screening at select checkpoints with the following airlines:

Alaska Airlines – George Bush Intercontinental, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Logan International, Miami International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Portland International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports

American Airlines – Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Indianapolis International, John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia, Lambert-St. Louis International, Las Vegas’ McCarran International, Los Angeles International, Miami International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Portland International, Salt Lake City International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports

Delta Air Lines – Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Indianapolis International, LaGuardia Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran, Boston’s Logan International, Los Angeles International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Orlando International, Portland International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Salt Lake City International, Seattle-Tacoma International and Tampa International airports

United Airlines – Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International, George Bush Intercontinental, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Indianapolis International, Los Angeles International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Portland International, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Seattle-Tacoma International airports

US Airways – Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Indianapolis International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Portland International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Salt Lake International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports.

Translation: PreCheck isn’t available everywhere yet, but it is available at many airports and is growing.  The initiative is a year old this week, so it is still a relatively new program.  Lookout for signs at your airport that announce its arrival if it isn’t there already.  You must be flying on a domestic itinerary to qualify for PreCheck.

How Do I Sign Up for PreCheck?

Participating airlines will permit some of their frequent flyers, based on TSA criteria, to opt-in through the airline’s system. Participating airlines have contacted eligible frequent travelers with an invitation to opt-in. Once the passenger opts in, the airline identifies the individual as a participant when submitting the passenger reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system.

Current members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS programs are already eligible to participate in the TSA Pre✓™ concept if they are flying on a participating airline at a participating airport. Those passengers need to place their PASS ID in the ‘Known Traveler Number’ field while booking their reservation. Interested passengers who are not eligible through their airline and are not already a member of a CBP Trusted Traveler program may still be able to opt-in to TSA Pre✓™ by applying for one of the CBP eligible programs. Click here to learn more: globalentry.gov.

Translation: You can apply for PreCheck via one of those frequent flyer programs.  I believe you originally needed to have elite status/be invited to apply via one of those programs, but the United program does not seem to have the requirement that you were invited.  It just says that anyone who is a US citizen and has a MileagePlus account can apply.  It does go on to say that “frequent flyers and members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (USCBP) Global Entry™, NEXUS, or SENTRI Trusted Traveler programs are most likely to be eligible for expedited screening.”  Click on the airline links above for each program’s details.  If you have Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS, you are also eligible.  You need to enter your Trusted Traveler number into your frequent flyer account and opt-in for PreCheck.  You can get that number in your GOES account or on your GE card.

How Do I Know if I am Approved for PreCheck?

You will find out when you fly and are told to go to the PreCheck line.  Really – there is no other way of finding out that you were approved that I am aware of.  Even if you are approved for the program, you won’t get approved for the expedited screening every time.  That means you can’t count on getting the expedited screening, since it is random when you will and won’t get it.  That part kind of stinks, but getting it some is still better than getting it none.  I’d rather more time in the lounge at the airport than in line at security.

You also need to make sure that the name on your ticket/frequent flyer account match exactly the name on your GOES account.   Some folks weren’t getting PreCheck on their flights because the names weren’t exactly the same.  A reservation made with a name that does not exactly match a passenger’s Global Entry card or GOES account will result in the passenger not being considered for TSA PreCheck screening.

Since PreCheck is new to Houston, I actually just registered for the program, and my first potential use will be on a flight next week.  We have had Global Entry for a while thanks to getting the $100 application fee refunded when I had the Amex Platinum card.  We did it once on my card and once on my husband’s authorized user card.  My fingers are crossed that I get approved for PreCheck on my upcoming flight, and get to fly through security!

I’d love to hear from those who have used PreCheck.  What did you think?  Did you go through it with your kids?  Helpful?  Not helpful?


  1. This is the best benefit! Wife and both Precheck eligible and have hit the beep lottery the last few times with our 11 month old so much easier than unloading everything. The best part is the frustrated looks from others.

  2. Sloan – what?

    I am precheck, wife is not…can she go through with me or does each adult need to be precheck certified?

  3. I added the information on United.com under profile but there is two identical place to put my number. Is this correct?

  4. Remember not everyone is chosen to use pre check I am 1 for 4 so far with the program will gf is 3 for 4 …. So yes if both parents traveling and one parent is chosen great kids go with that one but the other must be left behind

  5. My wife and i are traveling through Houston on Delta / Air France. It would be nice if we had something like that at that point. Both of us have Global Entry.

  6. Question on global entry — your kids cannot use this benefit? If my wife and I get it but our son can’t then there is no point, right? Or am I missing something

  7. @AirD0C, no your wife would need to be approved separately.
    @Ed, thanks. Just copied the list from TSA – guess they need an update. 😉
    @Sloan, that is awesome! Congrats!
    @MW, each adult has to be certified. That way they complete the background checks and all on each adult individually before allowing them to use PreCheck.
    @justatraveler, I also added it in my UA profile, but also went through the registration link. Click on the United hyperlink in the post and it will take you there.
    @Mike, correct. It isn’t a perfect system, but even if just one adult gets it and the kids can get through quickly that is much better than the traditional route.
    @amusing, if you are on an international itinerary, you wouldn’t be eligible. Global Entry will help on the return though!
    @Amit, earlier this year kids are now eligible for Global Entry. That changed since I got it (kids were able to go through with you). Your son can now get it himself. My daughter needs it now as well.

  8. This whole PreCheck thing is a gimmick, an unreliable one, more so when with other travel companions, particularly minors.

  9. I am not a citizen, nor a permanent resident. I’m in the States on a F1 visa. Therefore I am part of none of those fancy expediting government programs. I do, however, have Platinum status with Delta. Last Sunday Monday in LGA, I was selected for PreCheck. Imagine my surprise. Yay me. Sunday morning slow traffic, TSA agent probably felt generous.

  10. Pre-Check is also available for United in Boston if you are flying to Houston, Cleveland or Newark (aka flying United on an old Continental Route out of Terminal A, which is shared with Delta and Alaska Airlines).

    It is also available for Alaska Airlines flights out of Boston.

    TSA always forgets to include them on there list.

  11. PreCheck may be the best thing that ever happened to me. I had no idea I opted in. But I had a James Bond moment when the TSA official told me to take the secret line, and then I realized I didn’t have to take off my shoes. I have no idea when I opted in, but I guess I must have through my elite status on Delta. Best accident I have ever made. Oh did I mention it is Christmas time. Jetting past three hour lines, and keeping my boots on my feet is the BEST! I would like to know, now that I am approved by TSA, can I get this perk for any airline or is it just on the one I have status on?

  12. TSA pre-check is also now available to Canadians Nexus pass members, traveling domestically in the U.S.A. . The traveler must enter their PASS ID into the ‘Known Traveler’ field when booking a flight reservation or save their PASS ID to their airline’s frequent flyer profile.

  13. Hello MP: I just saw this and finally applied for pre-check (I’ve been part of GOES for international travel). One question I haven’t been able to answer–do you need to bring your GOES card to the airport? Or is it unnecessary? Thanks so much–this was a very helpful post–I signed up with AA, UA, US and DL!

  14. The Pre-check symbol has been printed on my last few boarding passes. I believe it was changed recently so that you can see if you’ll be able to use the Pre-check lane.

    The service IS great, but can be confusing at some airports. I was able to use the Pre-check lane to get into the A gates at LaGuardia recently but the B gates was old-school and only had standard lanes.

  15. Pre check didn’t work for our family. The TSA rep that checked us in made my husband go through the regular security line. He missed our flight and had to take the next one.

    • Mimi, only adults 12 and under can piggyback in Pre-Check without actually getting it themselves. Adults must get it to use it. Sorry he missed the flight!

  16. Today April 12, 2014 TSA would not let me in the PRE line with my 9 year old because his ticket wasn’t marked PRE. I have done this many times and it’s the 1st time we have had this problem. My wife and daughter traveling separately experienced same problem.

  17. You must have your KTN (Known Traveler Number) registered with the airline prior to making your reservation. The reservation and the KTN are both sent to the TSA. Adding the number after the reservation does not guarantee TSA Pre-Check. it is likely you won’t get it, even after calling the airlines (It is out of their control). I enrolled into TSA Pre-Check last year and have taken nearly 20 flights (Southwest) and each one I got Pre-Check authorization. Tomorrow is first time I will travel with my infant. (not TSA Pre-Check authz’d)

  18. I’m traveling to China from Seattle with my two children, 9 and 6. We fly Delta out of Seattle and am hoping they can both piggyback on my TSA Pre-Check. I have a KTN and it is in my Delta reservation. I have used pre-check on my previous flights but never with my kiddos. I really hope it works for me. The flight is long enough and a long line at the airport would make it even longer… fingers crossed.

    • SEATAC (seattle airport) seems like they commonly put familys through the precheck line without requiring the family have precheck status. I think all airports should have a family line (tsa precheck style) for people traveling with children under 6 or so…

      • I just returned from my China trip with my kids. They both had pre check status printed on their boarding passes so they could go with me in the TSA Pre-Check line. It was great. Now if only the Shanghai airport on the return trip home could have been as organized!

  19. To clarify, you’ll know when you’ve been approved once you’ve been issued your KTN (Known Traveler Number). Make sure to include this number on all your airport reservations so that it prints out on your boarding pass. Gets you into the Pre-Check lane every time!

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