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TSA PreCheck Program Overview

TSA PreCheck members now number more than 15 million. As air travel grows, more travelers want the convenience and time savings TSA PreCheck offers during the airport security screening process.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administers the TSA PreCheck program. This program streamlines security for pre-approved, low-risk flyers. TSA PreCheck travelers enjoy an expedited security process at over 200 participating U.S. airports. Benefits include:

  • Getting to keep on shoes, belts, and light jackets
  • Not having to remove 3-1-1 liquid bags or laptops from carry-on bags and personal items
  • Access to dedicated (and shorter) TSA PreCheck security lanes

This article provides an overview of TSA PreCheck and other programs for international travelers. We'll also discuss potential legal and consumer rights issues when applying for and using TSA PreCheck.

See FindLaw's Air Travel Rules section for more articles and FAQs on your rights and responsibilities when traveling by air.

History of the TSA PreCheck Program

First introduced in December 2011, the TSA PreCheck Program offers pre-approved citizens and permanent residents a faster path through airport security. It lessens wait times for all fliers.

The TSA PreCheck program followed enhanced airport security measures, including:

  • 3-1-1 rule for liquids
  • Advanced imaging technology
  • Shoe removal (to screen for explosives)
  • Deployment of federal air marshals
  • Use of canine teams

The program gets touted as a smarter, more efficient method of identifying airport security concerns.

Trusted Traveler Programs

Many frequent travelers also fly internationally. So, TSA's PreCheck program is only one of the Department of Homeland Security's four Trusted Traveler Programs. These four programs expedite travel to and from the United States and domestic travel.

The other trusted traveler programs are:

  • The Global Entry program for international travelers (more than 12 million travelers)
  • The NEXUS program for travelers between the U.S. and Canada
  • The SENTRI program for U.S. citizens and residents traveling by land between the U.S. and Mexico

Both the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are divisions of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP oversees Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI, while the TSA oversees TSA PreCheck.

These four programs serve a similar purpose. They all allow pre-screened travelers to pass through security checkpoints and customs for international travelers quickly.

While each program has a different focus, the screening and application processes are similar. All screen travelers and speed along those the program has determined low-risk. All participants get screened and pre-approved in advance. So, members of any program can use TSA PreCheck security lines at participating airports.

How To Enroll: The TSA PreCheck Application Process

TSA's PreCheck program requires an online application and an in-person appointment. Applicants first complete the online part of the application (which only takes about five minutes) on the TSA website. The online application asks you to select an Enrollment Center in your area. You will need to visit this site later to complete the interview and identity verification part of your application.

Next, applicants schedule an appointment at a nearby enrollment center. At the enrollment center, applicants must:

  • Provide biometric data and fingerprints
  • Submit a background check
  • Verify identity and citizenship with a passport, driver's license, birth certificate, or other approved document

The application fee for TSA PreCheck is $85. If approved, you must renew your benefits every five years, which requires a renewal fee.

Application processing and background checks take two to three weeks but vary.

The DHS will issue you a Known Traveler Number (KTN) if approved. Program members then add their KTN to their flight booking. This will show on their boarding pass that they are eligible for TSA PreCheck lanes and screening processes.

TSA PreCheck Controversies and Legal Concerns

Accessibility and potential biases in the PreCheck application process have raised concerns. Ensuring equal access to all eligible travelers without discrimination is a notable issue of the program.

The TSA has taken steps to address fairness and access to the PreCheck program. It allows non-binary and gender non-conforming identity documents during the application process. It also offers special screening options for passengers with disabilities. They don't need a PreCheck membership.

In the past, the TSA used a behavioral analysis program known as SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques). TSA used this to identify potential threats based on behavioral indicators.

But the program faced criticism due to its potential for racial and ethnic profiling. Critics and professionals also questioned its effectiveness and its cost benefit. Because of these issues and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) research, the TSA scaled back its use of SPOT.

Instead, it now uses more objective screening methods. These techniques can better improve security without the potential for bias and profiling.

TSA does not offer a reduced application fee for low-income flyers. But, you may be eligible for a discount or statement credit through your credit card. Some of the most well-known travel rewards cards include:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Capital One Venture
  • Delta SkyMiles American Express

You can file a complaint with TSA if you believe someone has discriminated against you or unfairly disqualified you from TSA PreCheck. You can also get help from a discrimination attorney.

TSA PreCheck Membership Eligibility

TSA PreCheck applicants must meet two primary eligibility requirements before approval:

  1. Must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident
  2. Must not have a disqualifying criminal history

You can find a list of disqualifying criminal offenses here.

The TSA can also deny applicants based on information from the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Presence on a terrorist watchlist or other government database will also disqualify an applicant.

Minors 12 and younger do not have to apply. They can use TSA PreCheck lanes if accompanying a parent or guardian enrolled in the program. Minors 13-17 can join their approved parent or member if they are on the same reservation with a participating airline.

Minors traveling alone can apply for their own PreCheck membership.

Get Legal Help With a TSA PreCheck Issue

TSA PreCheck can ease air travel for frequent flyers with expedited security screening. While most applicants get approved and enjoy the perks, the TSA denies about 3% to 5% of applications. You can appeal if you believe the TSA denied your TSA PreCheck application unfairly or with incorrect information.

You may want to talk to an attorney if your appeal is unsuccessful. This is especially true if you suspect discrimination in the application or appeal process. An attorney with experience in trusted traveler programs can review your application and denial and tell you your next steps.

Contact an aviation attorney in your area to learn how they can help protect your rights and effectively navigate your situation.

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