TSA PreCheck: Making travel with family that much easier
Time is a remarkably flexible thing. A half-hour spent with a good friend over coffee is no time at all, while a half-hour in the airport security line with a toddler who's overdue for a nap is an eternity. Taking advantage of the TSA PreCheck line can shorten your time in security to just a few minutes, and that's solid gold when you're traveling with family. Kids 12 and under go right through the PreCheck line with you, as long as you're already part of a trusted traveler program. Your spouse, on the other hand, needs to qualify for TSA PreCheck separately.
The application process is pretty straightforward
Enrolling in the PreCheck program is pretty streamlined, though it's certainly a good idea to get it out of the way well before you plan to travel. There's a five-minute online application through the Transportation Security Administration's website, and your spouse will have to book an appointment at one of the 380 or so enrollment centers around the country. Your spouse will need to provide fingerprints to support a background check, as well as undergo a 10-minute in-person interview at the enrollment center. The program is open to all American citizens and green card holders, though there are a number of potential disqualifications for people with a history of transportation-related offenses or violent crime.
Your spouse might already be a known traveler
PreCheck is the only trusted traveler program administered directly by the TSA, but the Department of Homeland Security has three others as well. One is the NEXUS program, which applies only to travel to and from Canada. The Global Entry program is very similar to the TSA's PreCheck, but applies to international arrivals and departures as well as domestic ones. The SENTRI program is similar to Global Entry but is open to citizens of other countries as well as Americans and legal residents. All three of these programs include access to the PreCheck line as a benefit, so if your spouse is a participant in one, there's no need to apply for PreCheck separately.
PreCheck is great, but consider the alternatives
Which of the known traveler programs you opt for depends on your travel plans. The TSA's PreCheck costs $85 for five years, or $17 per year, which – for the convenience it offers – is peanuts. Its only downside is that it's domestic only. NEXUS is the least costly at $50 for its five-year term, and since it includes cross-border travel to Canada, it's quite a bargain. Global Entry at $100 for five years and SENTRI at $122.25 cover international travel as well, so if you think you'll travel abroad as a family even once over five years, they can be worth the modest increase in price. One big advantage the other three programs have over the TSA's plain-vanilla PreCheck is that they'll give you expedited handling at land border crossings as well as at airports. That's a nice bonus if you're a fan of road trips. Pro Tip: You may be able to use loyalty points from your airline or credit card to pay for the application.
Family travel finesse: A couple of extra things to think about
Just getting into the PreCheck line can make family trips a lot easier, but there's more to it than that. One of the benefits of the program is that you won't have to shuck your footwear, belt and jacket when you pass through the line, and you won't have to unpack your laptop or the 3-1-1 liquids in your carry-on. That's nice when it's just you, but it's a real time saver when you're traveling as a whole family. If you have kids approaching 12 years of age, one thing to be aware of is the potential need for ID. Anyone over 12 isn't eligible to pass through the PreCheck line with you, and proving they're 12 or under might require government-issued photo ID. If you travel frequently, it's worthwhile getting your kids their own passports. Otherwise, you'll all have to troupe back to the regular line, with its delays and frustrations.