All your TSA PreCheck questions answered
TSA PreCheck is a useful program, for which people pay $85 every five years, and undergo a fairly extensive background check, for the privilege of getting through TSA security more efficiently. Still, TSA reserves the right to sometimes put a traveler registered with the program through a more intensive screening. On the other hand, sometimes TSA PreCheck shows up on the boarding pass of someone who never even applied. Why does that happen, and how would a passenger learn of this unexpected privilege?
TSA PreCheck on a boarding pass
It's easy to spot the TSA PreCheck designation on a boarding pass -it's indicated on the upper left side and embedded in the bar code. A boarding pass with this designation entitles the bearer to go through the security checkpoint without taking off shoes, belt or light jacket, and without having to open a laptop bag or 3-1-1 compliant carry-on. This makes the security process much quicker and more convenient.
But I never applied!
Sometimes, TSA PreCheck shows up on someone’s boarding pass at random. This is a marketing move by the TSA, based on the premise that once people experience the convenience of PreCheck, they’ll be more inclined to apply and pay for it. The passengers chosen for free PreCheck are typically frequent flyers or others who don’t appear to present a high level of risk. This is understandably annoying to people who have gone through the screening process and paid the fee, so the TSA continues to state that this policy will soon change, but so far it hasn't.
Note that even those who have applied and are approved TSA PreCheck travelers are sometimes pulled out and given a more rigorous screening. The TSA website states that security methods “seen and unseen” are used, and no one is ever guaranteed expedited screening. However, enrolled PreCheck travelers are certainly more likely to be approved for expedited screening than those who simply hope they will be selected randomly.
One class of people are automatically enrolled in PreCheck: the military. Active duty troops, those in the Reserves and National Guard and students at military academies are all automatically eligible for PreCheck, and don’t have to apply. Some classes of veterans can also get the service for free, but they need to apply.
What to do about an automatic PreCheck
There’s really nothing to do about an automatic PreCheck designation except to be grateful. If you receive one, just count it as a blessing from the travel gods, breeze through security, and ignore the irritation of those who have paid for the same privilege.