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What is TSA Precheck? A Full Guide on the Benefits and How to Sign Up

What is TSA Precheck? A Full Guide on the Benefits and How to Sign Up

Tired of long security lines? With a little extra effort, you can sign up for TSA PreCheck and save tons of time.

Mateos Glen Hayes


4 min read

August 16, 2023

Nobody is a fan of airport security. It’s easily the most time-consuming and tiring part of any airplane journey and yet you have to go through it no matter where you choose to fly out from. One way to get around this is to simply choose airports where the average wait time at the security lineup is lower, such as smaller regional airports that typically get less passenger traffic. Even certain major California airports also sport lower average TSA wait times. For example, Sacramento International Airport has managed to lower average security wait times to just 17 minutes thanks to efficient airport management. Or the common adage of flying through Hollywood Burbank Airport to avoid the busy Los Angeles International Airport if possible.

Having said that, the ultimate way to beat the line is to skip it, and the only way to do that in the world of American air travel is TSA PreCheck, also known as TSA Pre.   

What is TSA PreCheck? 

TSA PreCheck is the Transportation Security Administration’s “get through security faster” solution that allows travelers the government considers “low risk” to go through security in a faster, dedicated lane. Many travelers may be eligible for TSA PreCheck U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS. Children 17 and under are also eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Going through the TSA Pre lane means you don’t have to remove your belt, shoes, or jacket. In other words, this program frees you from having to go through the hassle of airport security, saving time, energy, and peace of mind. It’s no wonder then that over ten million people are already registered in the TSA PreCheck program.  

TSA PreCheck lets you skip the line at security, giving you extra time to catch your flight, do some shopping, or enjoy a coffee.

How Does TSA PreCheck Work?

Once you are deemed “low-risk” by the TSA and are therefore eligible for PreCheck, the whole process is pretty straightforward. Once you are approved you receive a card that contains your Known Traveller Number or KTN for short. All you have to do is enter this number when booking your ticket online, and the system automatically applies your TSA Pre-approved status to your boarding pass in the form of a green checkmark. 

You can also enter your KTN at the airport when checking in for your flight. Once you have this TSA Pre checkmark clearly displayed on your boarding pass, you may enter the dedicated TSA PreCheck lines at airport security and zoom through with plenty of time to catch your flight or grab some food. According to the TSA, nearly 90% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes to transit through airport security in July of 2023. 

Many airports in the Golden State offer TSA Pre including San Diego International (SAN)

Where is TSA PreCheck Available in California?

It is important to note that TSA PreCheck lanes are not available at all U.S. airports or with all air carriers. Fortunately, the program does have good nationwide coverage with more than 200 airports providing TSA PreCheck. The following 16 airports listed in alphabetical order offer TSA PreCheck in the Golden State:

How Do I Apply for TSA PreCheck? 

Applying for TSA PreCheck is fast, easy, and you can start the process online at the TSA website. Please note that you do not have to apply for TSA Pre if you already are approved for Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, or if you hold an active Transporation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), or a Commercial Driver’s License with a HazMat Endorsement (HME). 

Applying for TSA PreCheck is easy and can be done online in just five minutes.

The Application Process

In most cases all you need is your passport and driver’s license to apply, however, it’s best to run through the Department of Homeland Security’s interactive questionnaire to determine which documents you need to bring. To start the application process, go to the TSA website and click “Apply Now”. Then, complete a brief questionnaire to confirm that you are eligible for TSA PreCheck. You will also need to provide a list of identifying documents that you will bring for a quick interview. Once that’s done all you have to do is choose one of over 500 TSA PreCheck enrollment centers and schedule your interview. 

The main purpose of the PreCheck interview is so that the TSA can confirm your identifying documents are valid and process your fingerprints. This usually takes about 10 minutes at the end of which you will need to pay a $78 nonrefundable application fee. Once you have been approved for TSA PreCheck, you will receive a KTN which you can then apply to your flight bookings and any loyalty profiles with participating airlines. 

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Membership and Costs

Membership in TSA PreCheck is good for five years which comes to about $2 per month of TSA PreCheck. Once your first five years of TSA Pre are up, you will need to pay $70 to renew PreCheck online for another five years. These fees can be paid by credit card, company check, cashier’s check, or money order. Certain travel credit cards and airline loyalty programs may even allow you to renew TSA Pre for free using rewards points or miles.  

Do Children Need to Apply for PreCheck? 

Children ages 12 and under do not have to apply for TSA PreCheck and as such may use TSA Pre security lines so long as they travel with an adult who is a member of TSA PreCheck. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 may also use TSA PreCheck with TSA Pre members, but only if the TSA Pre checkmark appears on the child’s boarding pass as well. Once you are older than 17 you will need to apply for TSA Pre in order to use the PreCheck lanes at participating airports. 

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