Ahead of holiday travel, there’s still time to sign up for TSA PreCheck, which allows preapproved, low-risk travelers to expedite their way through airport security at 200-plus U.S. airports.
TSA PreCheck users do not have to remove their shoes, belts, laptops or liquids from their bags and are also usually screened with walk-through X-ray machines rather than the full-body scanners most people are subjected to.
Once enrolled, TSA PreCheck users will receive a Known Traveler Number, designating them as a Trusted Traveler member through U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler Program.
TSA PreCheck users must enter their KTN when booking airline reservations to ensure the green check symbol appears on their boarding pass.
Even if you are a registered TSA PreCheck user who has attached your KTN to your airline reservation, there may be times when the TSA PreCheck designation does not appear on your boarding pass.
Here are four reasons why this may be the case and steps to ensure TSA PreCheck users don’t get stuck in the regular TSA line.
When your frequent flyer account doesn’t list your Known Traveler Number
Once you’re approved for TSA PreCheck, you’re issued a KTN, which designates you as a Trusted Traveler. This ID is your ticket to the TSA PreCheck lane — but only if airlines know you have it.
After receiving your KTN or when flying a new airline, immediately add your KTN to that airline’s frequent flyer airline profile. This way, your KTN will automatically populate into the correct field in your account, especially if you’re flying with a carrier you don’t frequently fly.
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If you forget to do this, you can add it at the time of booking or when checking in for your flight, both online and at the airport, as long as you check in with enough time to add it to your account and reprint your boarding pass.
When the name on your ID doesn’t match your boarding pass
Any typographical discrepancies in the name on your boarding pass and the name registered with your TSA PreCheck account, such as a misplaced period or a missing middle name, may result in security noting the discrepancy and flagging your boarding pass for closer scrutiny.
Double-check that your name listed on your Trusted Traveler account and boarding pass match exactly.
When your TSA PreCheck access has expired
Like the other Trusted Traveler Programs, a TSA PreCheck membership is valid for five years and must be renewed for continued use.
You can renew your membership up to six months before expiration, and most people can renew online, though some might have to return to an enrollment center to complete the process. Two providers manage TSA applications, and it costs $70 if you renew online through either provider.
It costs $78 to apply through IDEMIA and $85 through Telos. However, there are a variety of credit cards offering up to $100 in statement credit reimbursement for the application fees associated with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry since membership to Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck privileges.
Some of the cards conveying free TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry are:
See here for a complete list of credit cards that offer a discount for TSA PreCheck.
This credit is typically available every four to five years, but check your card’s terms for the exact frequency.
When you get the dreaded SSSS
SSSS, short for Secondary Security Screening Selection, is an arbitrary airport security measure that selects certain travelers for additional inspection, though how or why this designation appears largely a mystery.
Unfortunately, if you have also been selected for this “privilege,” you will only be able to check in for your flight at the airline counter, and you almost certainly will not be able to go through the TSA PreCheck line. You will receive a thorough inspection from TSA agents.
If this dreaded circumstance befalls you, there’s nothing you can do other than get to the airport earlier than you would otherwise.
TSA PreCheck is not a guaranteed service perk
Though unlikely, TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed to users every single time they travel through a participating airport or airline.
“TSA uses unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport,” according to TSA. “All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.”
There are several ways to rectify a missing TSA PreCheck designation on short notice.
If you notice the error before arriving at the airport, call your airline to give them your KTN. Or, try adding your KTN information to your frequent flyer profile; confirm it’s been added by reloading your boarding pass via the airline website or mobile app.
If you don’t find out about the missing TSA PreCheck designation until you’re at the airport, take your boarding pass back to the airline check-in counter and ask them to add your KTN to your itinerary.
If you’re already in a time crunch, the difference in time saved going through the TSA PreCheck line could make or break your chances of getting onto your plane.
Though you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of getting out of line for the ticket counter on a case-by-case basis, I always advise doing everything possible to acquire TSA PreCheck access.