I arrived at PDX for a trip to Santa Barbara around 5:00pm on a Friday afternoon. I had just grappled with an hour drive from my office south of Portland in rush-hour traffic to get to the airport, on the city’s northern border with Washington. I found parking in the economy lot, took the shuttle in, and walked through security with no line, without taking off my shoes, with my liquids and laptop in my bag, and my belt on my waist.
Thanks to TSA Pre-Check, each time I go through security it’s a breeze. And for $20 per year, there is no reason any frequent traveler should go without it.
A TSA Program That Works!
Most of the time when I think of the Transportation Security Administration, lovingly known as TSA, I think of long lines, stupid rules, and big hassles. TSA gets a bad rap because it is the agency responsible for running our nation’s airport security checkpoints.
I’ll give it to them that they have a tough job. TSA is responsible for checking roughly 1.8 million air passengers per day and ensuring that each person traveling out of a United States airport is safe from security threats.
That said, airport security checkpoints suck. For everyone. Ever since 9/11, going through airport security in the US has been a big pain in the ass. Each time we go through security, we take off our shoes, take off our belts, take off our jackets, pull out our laptops and portable electronic devices, and throw away any liquids that don’t conform to the 3-1-1 rule.
When I travel through what is commonly believed to be the most secure airport in the world, Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport just outside of Tel Aviv, I can keep my toothpaste and water. I can keep my belt and shoes on. So much easier, given they have a completely different security system.
But TSA Pre-Check Works! Exactly like it should!
After going through the application process, TSA Pre-Check works exactly as advertised. When you travel through a Pre-Check airport and have your known traveler information entered, you can breeze through to your gate with less hassle and less wait.
How to Apply
Qualifying for TSA Pre-Check can be done through a handful of methods. One is the be chosen by an airline as a frequent traveler, qualifying you for Pre-Check when traveling on that airline only. The method I used is through the Global Entry program, which qualifies you for expedited border crossings into the United States in addition to Pre-Check.
Global Entry is designed for frequent international travelers, but there are no set requirements to qualify beyond self-selection and applying online. To begin, head to the GOES website to enter your lengthy application.
This is an official government application, so take care to be thorough and accurate when entering your information or you will be rejected from the program. You can save and continue later once you start. I filled everything out in one sitting, as I had my passport and birth certificate handy when I started. A valid, current US passport is required to apply and be approved.
Once you apply, wait for an email from TSA letting you know that you’re application is conditionally approved, then log back into GOES to print your conditional acceptance letter and register for an in-person interview appointment.
The interview system gets jammed up with applicants quickly and waits can be as long as a few months, so be sure to check back regularly if you want to get through quicker. If someone cancels, you can just grab that time. I was lucky and got a time about a week after I signed up, though my finance had to wait about three weeks.
The “interview” I went through was very informal. I arrived at the airport about 20 minutes early just to be sure I wasn’t late, and I asked for directions to the Global Entry interview room. I made my way down a back hallway in PDX and found myself (and another applicant) in a plain room with one uniformed TSA officer processing applicants.
He talked us through using the Global Entry kiosks together, which is how you can skip the wait when entering the United States from abroad, and took my finger prints. I was sure to be polite, have all of my documentation ready, and answer questions about upcoming travel plans. They do research and know all future international travel you have booked before you arrive.
The officer assumes you are good to go unless you give them reason to think otherwise. They pay close attention to your demeanor and if you act nervous, but when I went in the experience did nothing to make me feel uncomfortable or under suspicion. The only problem I had was a horrible picture for my Global Entry card.
At the end of the interview, the officer pointed me to my known traveler number, which was already on the conditional approval letter I brought with me, that I would use when buying plane tickets.
My biggest tips for this part of the process are to come with your documents organized and arrive on-time and prepared for the interview. I was in and out in about ten minutes.
Using Global Entry and Pre-Check
I’ve had the pleasure of using Pre-Check three times since being approved, and it has been as easy as advertised. I was a bit confused the first time, but it was because I was over thinking it. Just go through the marked Pre-Check line (similar to the first class and airline employees lines) instead of the longer wait.
Then it is like the “old days” of airport travel. Drop your bags on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector. No more naked x-ray machine!
This is a personal finance blog, after all, so I am sure you are wondering about the cost. There is a $100 application fee (which is paid whether you are approved or not) and the Global Entry approval is good for five years.
That is $20 per year to skip security and customs lines. Totally worth it to me!
Want to know more? Just drop a question in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.