Since PreCheck rolled out in 2011, TSA has continued to expand and refine the program, which almost seemed too good to be true at first. (Efficiency and TSA in the same sentence?)
If you haven't yet joined the PreCheck party, perhaps it's time. The New York Times reports TSA will soon start giving random passengers what's pretty much the Holy Grail of security. Remember how your chest would tighten upon seeing the snaking security line, time ticking to your boarding time and absolutely nothing you could do but join the one interminable queue? It seems like TSA is really dedicated to making PreCheck work—and making it worth the $85 fee.
I guess the thing is that, these days, around 45% of all domestic travelers receive PreCheck. Though participating PreCheck airports and airlines have increased over the years, TSA is now dialing back to accommodate passengers who actually paid for the service. (They say it's because they know more about signed-up passengers, which is fair.)
PreCheck has had its hiccups since it was introduced—it is headed by a government agency after all—with complaints about lines being used improperly or from people losing their status with no visible recourse for regaining it. It would make sense then that TSA is currently crowdsourcing designs for its various security lanes (PreCheck, standard, wheelchair accessible, etc.) to ensure its fast lanes actually are fast.
Back in the day, elite frequent fliers of certain carriers and those vetted through international customs programs like Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI were given the stamp of approval. But since last fall, anyone and everyone can apply, though it still requires a thorough background evaluation. New application centers have been set up at major US airports, with the most recent additions at San Francisco and Denver airports and a second at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, totaling more 280 centers in all. This means there’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon.
TSA has said there is no cap on participation, either, because they are trying to enroll as many "low-risk travelers" as possible. Just imagine the fewer times they have to instruct people to take out their liquids and laptops, the happier they are…
There are a few things that should be noted, however. First, PreCheck approval doesn't mean you're set to cruise through security for all your flights for the next five years. You'll still have to check each boarding pass to confirm you have PreCheck access that time around. If for some reason it’s missing on the itinerary, the best thing to do is check to see if your known traveler number (KTN) is included with your reservation. The airline can then uncheck you and check you back in to activate PreCheck. (Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI members would need to check to see if their PASS ID is included.)
Globetrotters should also be aware: While you can slip into a PreCheck line for an international flight out of the US, it really only is a domestic program. In short, it won't help you jump those frustrating immigration lines on the way back in. For international travelers, it's probably worth the additional $15 to spring for Global Entry ($100), since it also includes PreCheck access. Who knows, you might even want to take cross a major ocean during that five-year timeframe.
But if you have a knack for design and modeling, try submitting an entry for the PreCheck contest. That $2,500-$5,000 prize money definitely would offset the application fee.