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Flying TSA Pre Check

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What is TSA Pre Check

The TSA Pre Check program is the background security checks performed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for their Trusted Traveler program. This “Trusted Traveler” is the key because the only people who reference TSA Pre Check is the TSA (more to follow on this). With the TSA Pre Check completed, you are allowed to use the expedited screening process that is found at select Airports. Also, your airline must participate with the program (again, more to follow on this).

Why do I want TSA Pre Check

For me it’s simple. I fly. I fly a lot! I usually travel around 80k miles/year between various airlines, with my primary airline being American Air because when I started traveling, I was frequently going to Texas and AA has a major hub in Dallas (DFW). With the recent changes in security by implementing body scanners, things became more complicated to me. I don’t like the body scanners because I never know which scanner is good and which one will melt my insides after multiple exposures. Since I fly so much, I just rather not take any chances.

For those of you who do not want to use the body scanners, there is an “Opt out” policy which allows the TSA agents to place their hands all over your body to make sure you are not carrying anything dangerous inside the airport secured area. This is a time suck! Very few people do this, therefore it seems like I’m teaching new agents every week on what they are supposed to do for their job. Also, you cannot deviate from the script. There are two questions they always ask prior to performing the “love pat”:

  1. Do you have any sensitive areas
  2. Do you want a private screening

If you try to help by answering these questions before you start, they usually either a) get grumpy (because a sense of humor is not required) OR b) laugh and say “Sorry, I have to do the whole thing”. I know this is not the highlight of their day, but honestly I’m just tired of the charade.

Which Airports or Airlines are participating

It’s important to know that TSA Pre Check is available only if the airport AND the airline participate. This is because the airport is the entity who assigns a specifically area for TSA Pre Check approved individuals AND the way they know you are OK is they use a barcode scanner on your ticket (or e-ticket like using Apple’s Passbook app on iOS 6) as been supplied by the airline. You can find a list of Airlines (then their associated airports) at: http://www.tsa.gov/field-collection/field-section/392 OR at CBP site: http://www.globalentry.gov/tsa.html

What is the signup process

The process can be simplistically portrayed as Global Entry does with their “four easy steps”, or you can read TSA’s directions at tsa.gov. But the thing you need to know it takes time.

If you have never done a security background check, it’s a pain in the ass. First everything is online, there are no real support telephone numbers that you can call if you have questions. Oh, there are numbers for the different CBP offices, but unless you are trying to schedule your interview at that office they will most likely not be able to help.

To sign up, you need to give your information to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “GOES” (Global Online Enrollment System) website at: Global Online Enrollment System and Register for a new account. Once you have an account you have to select the program that you want to participate. CBP has multiple programs as they were the first entity to start doing security background checks for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prior to TSA using them for flights. Be sure to select “Global Entry” membership. Hint, it costs $100. Also, don’t choose anything that is international because most likely it’s the wrong program and the interview locations are only available on the Canadian or Mexican boarders. Fill in your information included what items of identification you will be using to verify yourself.

Once the initial information has been collected, wait for a couple of days-weeks and you’ll be notified that your application has been accepted and you need to perform an interview. When you are ready for your interview, be sure to bring the acceptance letter (I printed to PDF and had it on my phone), your identification documentation such as valid passport or permanent resident card, documents providing evidence of residency such as a driver’s license. So really three things:

  • Application Letter
  • Passport
  • Driver’s License

The interview is very simple, and just like other background security interviews. You listen/read/collect information that they feel is important, they ask you the same questions that you filled out on the form to verify accuracy, then finally the interview is over as long as you don’t have any questions. It took about 15-20 mins. Once complete your agent may or may not give your our “Trusted Traveler” ID number. THIS NUMBER IS IMPORTANT. You should also get a confirmation email that requires you to re-login to the GOES website which will have the same ID. You will copy/paste this ID to all the airlines that you use as they will apply this code to the scan portion of your paper ticket (or QR code for iOS 6′s Passbook). It’s the fact that the ID is printed on your barcode that will allow you go use the TSA Pre Check security gates.

What is the first time Airport Experience

I was able to just use my TSA Pre Check status for the first time today. I had to find the TSA Pre Check security area (for IAD that is on the main level where you check your bags at the airlines, then find the “middle” of the airport… don’t go downstairs to regular security). Once I arrived at the beginning of the cue security line, I scanned my Passbook QR code to verify I could use the line (e.g. my Trusted Traveler ID was confirmed) and they ask a couple of questions (“Are you traveling internationally”?) to see if I get “Randomly selected” for additional screening. At the end of the cue line, I scanned my code again and handed my Government ID to verify my flight information. I removed by belt, shoes, laptop, and toiletries as usual, walked through a metal detector ONLY, then grabbed my things at then end of the x-ray machine conveyor belt. I did all of this, alone. Nobody else was in the security line. I had all four TSA agents adoring eyes focused on me and I was done with airport security in less than five minutes. I’m flying like it’s the year 2000!

Imaginary FAQ

Q1) Any tips when filling out the online form. A1) I’d have to be honest, it was a long time since I filled out the form and guess what… I did the wrong one first. My process started in June of 2012, but I picked the wrong form that was for international. Because if this (and my work schedule conflicting not allowing me to give the proper attention) I sat in limbo for about four months. The one thing I do recommend is be sure to have a passport. It’s a great way for identification and it makes things easy.

Q2) How long did it take from start to finish? A2) Excluding my dumb error, three months. Completing the paperwork was quick. Communication was timely, getting an interview was horrible. The “first available appointment” was Jan 10 2013. Yes. I have my TSA Pre Check completed prior to my official appointment date. I found this out because I had some spare time at IAD and I just wanted to find out where the interview offices were. While talking to the agent to verify location and process, he slipped that they sometimes allow walk-ins on Saturday from 10-2. That is what I did. Now, the Saturday agent wasn’t happy that I walked in, but they attended my needs anyways. Just be sure to have all three items required for an interview as listed above.

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