Culture

Say Goodbye to Free Trips Through TSA PreCheck

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Your days of receiving a surprise “TSA PreCheck” designation on your boarding pass—one that allows you to breeze through security without having to pay the fee associated with enrollment in the PreCheck program—may be coming to an end.

In recent years, scores of lucky passengers were pleasantly surprised to find that they were able to bypass the regular security lines because their boarding passes had the special Transportation Safety Administration PreCheck marking. Passengers going through PreCheck don’t have to remove belts or shoes and don’t have to take their electronic devices out of their carry-on bags. They can also usually avoid the full body scanners and pat-downs by TSA personnel. All of this makes for a quicker and more pleasant trip through the security line. According to the TSA, more than 95% of PreCheck travelers make it through the security line in five minutes or less.

But the TSA recently told CNBC that freebie trips through the TSA line are going to be reduced.

“Starting early February 2017, TSA will significantly reduce access to [TSA PreCheck] expedited screening for non-enrolled travelers,” Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mike England told CNBC in an emailed statement.

England said that the change will affect “very few” travelers and the impact on lines will be minimal.

“This is part of the natural progression of the [TSA PreCheck] program,” he said. “In the future, we intend to only have enrolled or pre-vetted passengers, or those screened by K9s, in the expedited screening lanes.”

While there has been no formal announcement from the TSA, some airlines have alerted their customers of the impending changes. United Airlines notified its customers of the change in a notice on the company’s website. “As of February 2017, TSA will significantly reduce access to TSA Pre✓® expedited screening lanes for non-enrolled travelers,” United said.

The program, which began in 2011, hit the one million enrollment mark in 2015 and the four million mark this year. TSA announced this month that they recently added 11 additional airlines to the program, bringing the total number of partner airlines to thirty. Passengers on Aruba Airlines, Avianca, Boutique Airlines, Emirates, Key Lime Air, Miami Air International, Southern Airways Express, Spirit Airlines, Sunwing, Virgin Atlantic, and Xtra Airways will now have the opportunity to take advantage of expedited screening procedures.

If you’re a frequent traveler and want to enroll in PreCheck, you’ll have to pay. The cost is $85 to sign up and the pre-screening is good for five years. The first step is to submit a 5-minute online application. Next, you’ll schedule an in-person appointment at one of 380 enrollment centers, where you’ll present proof of identification and submit your fingerprints. The 10-minute appointment will also include a background check. Applicants are usually notified within 2-3 weeks if they’ve been approved. Once approved, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number, which you’ll use anytime you make an airline reservation. That number is your ticket to a quick trip through the TSA line nearly every time.

Trust me, you’ll be glad you paid the $85 the first time you get to walk past an excruciatingly long line of beleaguered travelers in the regular line. Check out the TSA website for more information on the program.