Off-topic here, or perhaps not, since translators and interpreters do tend to travel a lot! This applies only to US residents, so feel free to ignore it if you’re outside the US.
Since I joined the ATA Board in 2012, I’ve been meaning to apply for TSA PreCheck. By the time I got around to applying (in 2018…sometimes it takes me a while!), I decided to just apply for Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck eligibility…more on that below) since I’ll have more international travel flexibility by the time I rotate off the ATA Board in October.
You can read about the specific benefits of these programs at the links above, but essentially they allow you to pay a fairly minimal fee ($85 for five years for PreCheck, $100 for five years for Global Entry including PreCheck), and if approved, you get to:
- Go through a special expedited security lane at the airport (if available…more on that below)
- Not have to remove your liquids or electronics from your suitcase for screening
- For Global Entry, potentially use expedited lines when you arrive in other countries, and use electronic passport readers when you return to the US
Many people wonder whether these programs are worthwhile, so here’s my experience. If you want the TL:DR version: I think they’re definitely worth it if you travel more than a few times a year, or if you have specific needs (again…more on that below). To me, the only negative is that the application process is long, and you have to go to an in-person interview at an airport, which can be more or less inconvenient depending on where you live.
My application story: after I submitted my Global Entry application online, I was pretty quickly upgraded to the stage where you go for an in-person “interview.” However the soonest interview appointment at the Denver airport was eight months later. Yes, you read that correctly: eight months. There are other options if you’re in a hurry or want the status for a specific trip. For example I could have gotten an appointment as quickly as one week later, had I been willing to drive about six hours to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or I could have tried to schedule an appointment in another city where I was flying anyway. However I just waited, and finally did my “interview” eight months later.
The “interview” is basically just an appointment where you are electronically fingerprinted. Having gone through the application process to become an FBI Contract Linguist back in the day, I expected…I don’t know…a polygraph or lots of invasive questions or something like that. I arrived about 20 minutes early for my interview, and was already back in my car by the time of my original appointment. It was that fast. And I had my approval before I got home. Super simple. The golden ticket here is your PassID/KTN (Known Traveler Number), a nine-digit number that you enter when you purchase a plane ticket, so that you will get a PreCheck boarding pass.
Since getting approved for Global Entry, I’ve used it five times, on four domestic trips and one international. Here’s how it’s gone so far.
- Overall, the PreCheck security lane is much faster and much less annoying; you’re exempted from the first-world inconvenience of having to take your shoes off, extract your computer and toiletries, reassemble everything on the other side of security, etc. In the Denver airport, I’m normally through security in under 10 minutes. Sometimes under five minutes. Another special use-case–I notice this only because my husband has a pacemaker, which always creates drama in the security lane–for whatever reason, most of the PreCheck lanes seem to have old-fashioned metal detectors, rather than millimeter wave machines. So if you have a reason for avoiding the millimeter wave machine, PreCheck could solve that.
- One caveat: PreCheck isn’t always an option at smaller airports. In just four trips, I’ve encountered this twice. Monterey, CA doesn’t have a PreCheck lane at all, and in Austin, TX, it was closed due to lack of staff. With a PreCheck boarding pass, you (for reasons I don’t really understand) are allowed to keep your shoes on in the regular lane, but you have to take your electronics and liquids out of your bag.
- The jury is still out on the benefits of Global Entry when you return to the US. I’ve only done this once, so take this with a grain of salt. When I returned from a trip to Switzerland, by far the shortest line was for those using the Mobile Passport app, which has nothing to do with Global Entry. It’s just a secure app where you enter your passport information and travel details before you get off the plane; in Denver, people were even encouraged to download the app while we taxied to the gate. I had both Mobile Passport and Global Entry, so I chose Mobile Passport.
- I’ve read two negatives about PreCheck, both of which seem to be true: 1) You can be randomly excluded for a specific flight, and there is no way to appeal that. You just have to go through the regular lanes. And 2) Any airport can randomly select people to go through PreCheck if the regular lanes are crowded. The hitch is that those randomly-selected people often don’t know how the PreCheck lanes work, which holds things up. Not significant negatives, but worth mentioning.
- Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits do not extend to family members traveling with you, even kids. However, on one of the trips I’ve taken since I got Global Entry, my 16 year old daughter was traveling with me, and she did get a PreCheck boarding pass even though she doesn’t have PreCheck status. Don’t take that as being likely, but it did happen to us.
- There seems to be confusion about whether Global Entry includes PreCheck, and the Global Entry website seems to use deliberately vague language about this, saying you are “eligible for PreCheck benefits” if you have Global Entry. My understanding is that you will get PreCheck status if you have Global Entry, but you must enter your Known Traveler Number when you buy the ticket. The TSA officer told me that sometimes, people think that you can just show up at the PreCheck line and show your Global Entry ID card, which is false. The ID card doesn’t give you that status: PreCheck has to be indicated on your boarding pass. But if you enter your KTN, you should get a PreCheck boarding pass.
- At the Denver airport, the shortest line of all is usually the CLEAR lane. CLEAR is a private company whose service ($179 a year) allows you to skip the identity verification step of security screening and go directly to the baggage screening lane. To me, CLEAR seems like it could be fantastic (if you fly frequently between any of the 28 airports that offer it) or totally worthless (if your home airport doesn’t have it). CLEAR also works at some large sports arenas, so could be worth checking out if you patronize those, but otherwise it’s a pretty expensive alternative to PreCheck.
So far, I’m really happy with PreCheck and wish I had applied for it several years ago. Readers, any positive or negative experiences here?