Getting Through Security Faster with TSA PreCheck – Review and Report

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Detroit Metro Airport’s PreCheck lane

Recently, finding myself with several flights in and out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Delta within a short period of time, I started looking forward to using PreCheck.

It’s important to note that PreCheck is not a guarantee.  There is no official enrollment per se, even with an invitation from an airline.  One is simply eligible, and the TSA (specifically, one of the TSA’s many computers) makes a determination on PreCheck for each and every flight, based on a variety of factors, including destination and past flying pattern.

Prior to a flight to Spartanburg, South Carolina, I arrived at Delta’s LaGuardia terminal on a sunny Monday morning with my colleague Christian Stampfer, our European editor, and told him I’d probably be using the PreCheck lane.   At LaGuardia, PreCheck is accessed via the SkyPriority line, and there were just a few people ahead of us.

When my boarding pass was scanned at the checkpoint, a green light flashed three times.  The agent checking credentials smiled at me: “Congratulations. You get to go to the PreCheck lane.”

Security is more relaxed in PreCheck Lanes

The PreCheck lane was immediately to my right and empty (unlike the non-PreCheck lines).  The woman manning the station greeted me warmly.  “Is this your first time?” she asked.  When I told her yes, she started to tell me all of the benefits of PreCheck, reminding me not to take out my laptop, not to take off my shoes, not to … well you get the picture.

All of this may make you wonder if it makes sense to give special treatment to frequent fliers.  It’s important to keep in mind that even those travelers who typically get selected for PreCheck are subject to a complete screening, so there is always an element of surprise. Second, a good deal of security is really theater and does little to enhance safety in the air.

In addition, the head of the TSA, John Pistole, has readily conceded that trusted traveler programs such as PreCheck are not foolproof.  It is not inconceivable that a terrorist might also have high-level elite status with an airline and a background that raises no red flags.

The TSA plans to widen the scope of PreCheck and make it available to an increasing number of passengers in the coming year.

Exiting LaGuardia’s PreCheck lane, Delta Terminal

But I digress.

I was through the screening in under a minute, and it would have even gone more quickly had the agents manning the checkpoint not spent time extolling the virtues of PreCheck.  The agents seemed to be friendlier than those I’ve encountered at non-PreCheck lanes – and there’s probably good reason for that.  They only encounter happy passengers who are thrilled to be using the PreCheck lane, and that good humor is contagious.

My next flight, the following week, was from LaGuardia to Detroit, and the experience was similar, except that the SkyPriority lane was backed up with a wait time of at least 15 minutes.  Nonetheless, once I got to the document checker, I saw the green LED flash three times and headed towards the PreCheck lane (if the green LED flashes once, it indicates standard screening).  The welcome was equally warm, and I was through the checkpoint in seconds.

My third experience was at Detroit Metro Airport on my return flight.  There was almost no wait on the SkyPriority line, although the agent controlling access was a bit unclear about whether PreCheck was available at this checkpoint.  Nonetheless, when checking my documents, the green LED flashed three times, making me three for three in PreCheck, and I headed off towards the separate PreCheck lane, bidding my traveling companions adieu.

To give you an idea as to how much time I saved, I waited approximately seven minutes (after completing my screening) for my traveling companions to make it through the screening process.  This gave me a chance to chat with a TSA manager about the success of PreCheck, and he was all smiles about the topic.  He told me that the passengers using PreCheck were practically gushing with compliments (his words) and very happy with the overall experience.

Presently, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and US Airways participate in PreCheck, but not every airport with a PreCheck lane supports it for all airlines.

And just remember, green may mean go, but three greens means PreCheck.

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