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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?