Expedited Airport Security: We All Want It, But How Do We Get It?
Last week, it was announced by the TSA and Homeland Security that the new TSA Pre√ passenger-screening program will be expanded from 7 airports to 35 US airports. As we heard about this program’s expansion, we thought it would be helpful for frequent travelers to better understand all of the options for expedited security.
Excluding individual airline status or class, there are currently 4 primary unique ways for travelers to access expedited security: Global Entry, TSA Pre√, Black Diamond Self Select and CLEAR. Below we outline each option, including requirements as well as the pros and cons for each program.
Global Entry, Nexus, and Sentri: This is a special US Borders and Customs programs meant for frequent international travelers, although there is no minimum amount of travel needed to apply. These programs are meant to speed up the customs process - Global Entry is for general international travel while Nexus and Sentri are for Canada and Mexico, respectively. These programs allow expedited customs clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. The process is not for the faint at heart; you need to fill out an application online ($100 fee) and then schedule and pass an interview administered by a U.S Customs and Border Protection officer.
Airport process: Upon arrival at the airport, a traveler proceeds to a Global Entry Kiosk, presents their passport or U.S permanent resident card, places their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and makes any customs declarations. The passenger is issued a receipt and is able to proceed directly to baggage claim and exit.
Pros: Avoid border control lines, Great for frequent international travelers Cons: Cost, Upfront time investment
TSA Pre√: The concept of TSA Pre√ was born out of the philosophy that not all travelers pose the same level of risk. By moving away from the one-size fits all concept, to a more risk-based system, the hope is an improved airport experience for all. Currently the program is opt-in only. If you were eligible via airline status, a participating airline (currently only American Airlines or Delta Air Lines but soon to be Alaska Airlines, US Airways, and United Airlines) would have contacted you with an invitation. If you accept the invitation, TSA will be notified and you will undergo a pre-screening process. Upon passing the pre-screening, you will be issued a PASS ID. Members of Global Entry, Nexus, or Sentri are also eligible to opt in to the TSA Pre√ program. For detailed information on roll out dates and participating security checkpoints for the TSA Pre√ program please check here.
Airport process: When you book your flight you will submit your PASS ID in the ‘Known Traveler Number’ field on the booking website. Upon arrival at the airport, participating travelers will walk through a dedicated lane at airport security checkpoints. TSA Pre √ boarding passes will be specially encoded and recognized by the TSA officer’s machine as low-risk. This will allow the passenger to skip having to remove belts, shoes, and jackets and leave laptops and liquids in bags when being searched.
Pros: Free, Dedicated security line, No need to remove shoes, belt, laptop, and liquids Cons: Invite only unless you go through US Customs and Borders programs.
Black Diamond Self Select: Modeling itself after ski icons and coloring scheme, 51 airports have implemented self-select lanes. The lanes aim to both decrease wait times and the anxiety of the process.
Airport Process: As you approach security at a participating airport, the three different lanes will be clearly marked and a passenger decides which to take. Green is for families with small children and strollers, passengers with special needs, and passengers not familiar with TSA procedures. Blue is designated for passengers familiar with TSA rules but not exactly an “expert”. Lastly, Black is for those who know how to get through security quickly and efficiently.
Pros: Free, No upfront time investment Cons: Traveler confusion over lines, Larger pool of travelers could impact the speed of even the Black lanes
CLEAR : CLEAR is a non-affiliated TSA program that has eliminated not the security clearance, but the verification check (when the TSA agent initially asks you for your boarding pass and identification). CLEAR members have opted to automate the verification check process using biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans through an upfront registration process (1 time, prior to traveling).
Airport Process: When you arrive at the airport (having already done the upfront biometrics registration) you use your CLEAR card at a designated CLEAR kiosk. After verifying your biometric information, you have access to exclusive CLEARlanes that will bring you straight to screening. The cost of such convenience? $179 a year. Although only at MCO and DEN currently, they are expanding to SFO and we hope others!
Pros: Skip ID check line, which is often the longest part of the security process Cons: Cost, Upfront time investment, Still go through regular security screening lane, Only available at 3 airports
So, speed through identity check or potentially speed through security. The new TSA program is definitely a step in the right direction but take us back to the days where we didn’t have to take our shoes off and we’ll be even happier campers.