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TSA Pre-Check was one of the best things to come to air travel since I don’t know, the mobile boarding pass? Point is, it is awesome. You get to leave your shoes and light jacket on, laptop and liquids in your bags, and walk simply through a metal detector. It was like the “old days” of air travel where you went through security, but it wasn’t the royal logistical (and potentially invasive) pain that it has become.
Originally you could only get Pre-Check by being invited by an airline via your elite status or by having a Trusted Traveler number via a program such as Global Entry (or by being 12 or under and going through with your Pre-Check parent). Not only was the security process itself much better than the normal security line, but there was virtually no line at all to use Pre-Check. For months I would often be the only one going through the Pre-Check line when I was at the airport. It would often be about a 30 second process from the time I entered, to the time I exited security. In other words, it was ah-maz-ing.
Pre-Check Lines Get More Crowded:
Of course, you know how things go when something seems to good to last… A few months ago I started to notice that the Pre-Check line had gotten dramatically longer over night. Not only that, but the line became filled with people who had no idea what Pre-Check was, or why they had it. My own three year old now gets her own Pre-Check with regularity without having any elite status or Trusted Traveler number.
Those new to the program in the line often aren’t familiar with the rules, and so still try to take off shoes, computers out of their cases, etc. On top of that, there was usually no TSA agent proactively telling them the Pre-Check rules, so it was up to more experienced Pre-Check users around them to notice their “deer in their headlights” look, and brief them on the process. I know I tried to do that as much as possible, and encouraged others to do the same.
Despite the longer line, because of the streamlined screening process, the line still moved faster than the normal security line. That is until yesterday. Yesterday I was traveling from Houston Bush Intercontinental in the middle of the day on a Friday. The lines at the airport in general were relatively minimal, but the Pre-Check line was just about the longest I had ever seen it, and the regular security lines were either the same or shorter. Another woman entered the regular security line at the same time I entered the Pre-Check line, and she was totally through security and on her way to her gate before I had even gone through the metal detector in the Pre-Check line. The regular security line was officially faster than the Pre-Check line yesterday.
Why the Pre-Check Line is Moving Slower
The slower line I and others is experience is in part due to the increased number of people using Pre-Check, their uncertainty on the rules of the program, and the Pre-Check line simply not having enough bins and other basics to keep things running smoothly. In the regular security line there is often someone telling folks to take their shoes off, laptops out, liquids out, restocking bins, and generally keeping things moving, but that doesn’t exist in the Pre-Check lines I have experienced.
It also didn’t help that many going through had on winter boots that they would try keep on, but ultimately would set off the alarm causing a further back-up. Another issue is that even pretty major airports still have just one terminal and/or one Pre-Check line up and running at certain parts of the day to serve all the participating airlines including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America.
In addition to those who access Pre-Check by having a Trusted Traveler number courtesy of Global Entry, NEXUS, or similar, members of the military who use their DoD number on their flight reservation, those who have paid $85 and through the DHS Trusted Traveler program, and those randomly selected to be of low risk can now also use Pre-Check. So, you have dramatically more people using the service (especially via the “random selection” route), but roughly the same number of screening lines.
At my home airport, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Terminal A and Terminal E have fairly recently gotten Pre-Check, but only until 8AM for Terminal A, and 10AM for Terminal E. That leaves a whole lot of the day with just one Pre-Check line in Terminal C to serve the entire airport.
Pre-Check Still Great, Just Not as Great
My entire wait for security could still be measured in minutes I could count on a hand or two, but the honeymoon period of 30 seconds or less for Pre-Check is over. It may or may not be the fastest security line now at any given time. However, it will likely be the most pleasant of the security lines thanks to the streamlined process.
I can tell you that on family trips being able to focus on my kid’s needs instead of quickly stripping off some of my clothes and taking things out of my bags for screening has made the security process a much less stressful part of our travel, but allow more time for Pre-Check than you used to.