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The 2023 summer travel season is expected to be busy, making federal programs like TSA pre-check especially useful for flyers, according to experts.
These programs are chargeable but generally allow travelers to save time at the airport. However, the relatively long processing times – as with recent passport applications – mean that it may be difficult for some new applicants to take advantage of them before traveling this summer.
“There are so many people who want to travel now, especially after the pandemic,” said Sofia Markovich, travel consultant and founder of Sofia’s Travel. “It’s like passport renewal, where there were these huge delays.”
That said, programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are definitely worth it for frequent travelers, she added.
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“They make sense all year round, but especially when it’s the busy season,” Markovich said.
TSA PreCheck aims to reduce screening time at airports. Travelers wait in a different – and often shorter – line from the standard security line. In April, 94% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes at the security checkpoint, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
The agency aims for wait times of 10 minutes or less with PreCheck and 30 minutes for typical lanes.
TSA PreCheck — available for departures from some US airports — costs $78 for new registrants. A membership lasts for five years and renewals are $70.
The initial fee for new members is $15.60 per year. Several credit cards cover the costs as a customer benefit.
Along with a potentially shorter safety line, there’s also a convenience factor, experts said.
Since the application implied a passenger risk assessment – including fingerprinting for a background check – members do not have to remove their shoes, belts or light jackets when going through airport security. They can also keep electronics and “Compliant liquids 3-1-1″ in hand luggage. (The 3-1-1 rule allows each passenger to carry a one-liter bag of bottled liquids weighing no more than 3.4 ounces each in their carry-on.)
“It’s pretty hard for most people to argue against that,” Sally French, travel expert at NerdWallet, said of the fees. “It will alleviate so much stress on the road.”
PreCheck is one of the few trusted traveler programs offered by the US Department of Homeland Security in partnership with other federal agencies.
Other programs include Global Entry, which provides expedited US customs clearance upon return from overseas travel. A five-year membership incurs a $100 non-refundable fee and includes TSA PreCheck.
When programs may not make sense
There are instances where the programs — and their fees — may not make sense for travelers, experts said.
Programs are more cost effective for people who travel frequently, for example. CSE recommended Global Entry for people who travel internationally four or more times a year.
TSA PreCheck also doesn’t guarantee travelers will save time, experts said. The standard security line may be the shortest, depending on the airport and time of departure.
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry applications for beginners can also be somewhat cumbersome, experts said. This is largely due to the need for an in-person assessment. Appointments — especially those for Global entry – are not always easy to obtain and may require an out-of-the-way visit (perhaps to an airport) to complete.
You have so many people who want to travel now, especially after the pandemic.
founder of Sofia’s Travel
Processing times for Global Entry applications can also take four to six months, according at DHS. In 2022, the average time to register for Global Entry was 93 days, the department said.
According to DHS, the longer wait times are due to a record number of applications for trusted traveler programs. Google search traffic for “TSA Precheck” is around its highest level in five years.
Most TSA PreCheck applicants must complete a online applicationand get approval within three to five days of their in-person enrollment appointment, on average. However, it may take 60 days or more, the TSA said. (As of February 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began publishing interview appointment slots for Enrollment Centers on the first Monday of each month at 9 a.m. local time, according to the DHS.)
TSA PreCheck is also not available at all airports or airlines. It is currently available in over 200 airports and via more than 85 participants Airlines companiesaccording to the TSA.
If a traveler’s home airport doesn’t have it — most often at a small, regional facility — it might not be worth the time and expense, French said.
Travelers have another program option called Clear if they’re worried they won’t be approved for TSA PreCheck in time for a trip, French said.
Clear, run by a private company and not a government-affiliated program, speeds up the identity verification portion of the security check using retina or fingerprint scanning. (This differs from TSA PreCheck. Clear members must always remove their shoes, belts and electronic devices during the physical screening process, unless they also have TSA PreCheck.)
A membership is more expensive – $189 per year, although discounts are available for some travellers. Travelers can to inscribe at the airport, usually within minutes.