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The TSA Pre Program Overview

As air travel has boomed and security concerns have mounted, passengers are more concerned about lengthy security lines at airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is trying to alleviate congestion by using fast security lines for pre-screened, low risk flyers. This article provides an overview of the TSA Pre Program and similar programs for international travelers.

TSA’s Pre-Check Program

The TSA Pre-Check Program offers approved fliers a faster path through airport security. It’s a program designed for pre-approved citizens and permanent residents assessed as low-risk travelers. First introduced in October 2011, the Pre-Check Program is also designed to reduce wait times for flyers using regular security lines. The program has been touted as a smarter, more efficient method of identifying security concerns at airports. Pre-Check is a growing program, with more and more travelers applying for Pre-Check status each month.  

A Trusted Traveler Program

Many frequent travelers move across international lines as well. Accordingly, TSA’s Pre-Check program is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s four Trusted Traveler Programs. These four programs expedite travel to and from the United States in addition to domestic travel.

This includes international travelers using the Global Entry program (approximately 1.3 million travelers), travelers between the US and Canada who use the NEXUS program, and U.S. citizens and residents traveling by land between the US and Mexico on the SENTRI program. These four programs serve a similar purpose: they allow pre-screened travelers to quickly pass through government checkpoints and, for international travelers, customs checkpoints.

While each program has a different focus, the screening and application processes are similar and achieve a common result. All screen frequent travelers and speed along those determined to be low-risk. Since all participants are screened and pre-approved in advance, members of any program can automatically use dedicated Pre-Check security lines at airports.

Becoming TSA Pre-Check Approved

TSA’s Pre-Check program requires you to apply in advance. You can find complete information on the application process as well as application forms on the TSA’s website. However, the basic eligibility requirements are straightforward:

  1. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents;
  2. Applicants must not have a disqualifying criminal history;
  3. Applicants must visit an enrollment center to provide identifying information and biometric data (fingerprints); and
  4. Applicants must pay an $85 non-refundable application fee.


Successful applicants will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) in the mail. This is the key to the Pre-Check program, verifying that the traveler is pre-approved for expedited security screening. Program members must include their KTN when booking flights in order to use Pre-Check lines at the airport.

TSA Pre Program Controversies

Pre-Check is still relatively new, so there are still some kinks being ironed out. For one, the program is significantly underutilized. Dedicated Pre-Check security lines work best when millions of people are using them. This makes staffing dedicated lines worthwhile and also eases congestion for flyers using regular security lines. The relatively small number of program participants often leaves Pre-Check lines empty.

This lack of participants has led to other controversies. The TSA often selects non Pre-Check flyers to go through Pre-Check lines. While this can speed things along and better utilize security personnel, it can also slow down Pre-Check lines for flyers who have paid the fee and been granted a KTN. Pre-Check usually doesn’t require travelers to remove shoes, belts, and laptops. These differences can cause confusion when non-enrolled members are diverted to Pre-Check lines.

Finally, the means for choosing which regular passengers can use the Pre-Check lines has caused controversy. The TSA’s use of behavioral assessments to make those decisions has drawn criticism from government agencies and experts.

Next Steps

TSA’s Pre Program can make travel easier for frequent flyers and speed you through airport security. If you or someone you know could benefit from using it, check out TSA’s website or find a nearby enrollment center. Finally, if you've suffered an injury, whether physical or financial, during air travel, consider contacting an aviation attorney to discuss your case.

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