Not all TSA Pre-check lines are created equal

tsa precheck logoBefore I start, I want to say that I still think TSA Pre-check can be one of the most helpful things for saving time on a business trip. However, I have some updates that I would like to share.

First, make sure that you know that just because you have a Known Traveler number on file with your airline does not mean that you automatically get Pre-check. This is incredibly frustrating—I guess I get the logic behind it (kind of), but it is lame that I can’t build the assumed time savings into my plan for what time to leave for the airport.

Second, just because you get to go through the Pre-check line doesn’t mean you will automatically get all the components associated with Pre-check. For example, last week I was flying another unusual airline (JetBlue), which has its gates near a different security line than I usually go through. The line is much smaller, and only has two lanes for baggage screening. Since I was there during an off-peak time, only one screening lane was open. While I got to go through the expedited line to show my ID and boarding pass, there was no special baggage screening line. I was able to keep my shoes on and go through the metal detector instead of the body scanner, but I had to take my laptop out of my carryon. Luckily, I wasn’t flying with two laptops this time, as I was super short on time and barely made it to my gate before a conference call. But it had never occurred to me that not all Pre-check lines are the same!

Finally, if you realize that you have forgotten to put your Known Traveler number into your airline’s website, you can do it at the counter when you check in. If the first person you talk to doesn’t know how to do it, ask someone else. I was able to have both Southwest and JetBlue agents add it for me. Luckily, the lines were short and I didn’t have to wait too long.

For those of you who don’t have Global Entry and are interested in applying for Pre-check, they have opened a new interview center at Dulles. However, I still think Global Entry (or Nexus!) is the better deal.

Readers, have you had any surprising experiences with TSA Pre-check?

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  1. […] When does TSA Pre-Check operate at SJC? My experience in the Term B line is that the wait isn't too long (about 10 to 15 minutes), but it's still frustrating to see that TSA Pre-check never seems to be operating. The Clear line is always, well clear. When I flew from BUR, TSA Pre-check was operating. Is this only an early morning thing starting at 5:30a and then everyone goes on break 4 hours later at 9:30am? Here's another (lack of pre-check) experience:…created-equal/ […]


  1. Also…if you fly on SWISS or Lufthansa, they will ask if you have a Known Traveler Number in the “purchase” field of the reservation. However, if flying outbound from the USA, it does NOT appear on the boarding pass. I tried to have it scanned anyway at the Pre-Check line and it did not work – even whenI showed my Global Entry card as photo ID.

  2. yes, seems to be 2 TSA pre-check standards. The original is in larger airport, with a fully dedicted Pre-check ONLY security entrance. then within the past 2-3 months, TSA has rolled out in smaller airports (or less busy terminals) a blended regular + pre-check mixed. in the latter, as pre-check, shoes & jacket stay one, walk thru old skool metal detector (not newer scanner), but laptop & liquids out of carry on which scans thru w/ non pre-check travels.

  3. Interestingly, with JetBlue, the Pre-Check logo does not show up on boarding passes you print at home. However, it is displayed on mobile app boarding passes. A JetBlue phone agent told me on Friday, that their IT folks are working on getting the Pre-check designation onto home-printed boarding passes.

  4. Really chapped my ass recently when (at DFW with full pre-check capabilities), with a pre-check boarding pass and green light upon scanning boarding pass at TSA station, they sent me and several others behind me over to the regular screening line for baggage. So i had to take off shoes, remove laptop, remove toiletries. I think they were trying to regulate the lines as the pre-check screening area was getting backed up, but really annoying.

  5. At United terminal (7) at JFK, there is a separate very small screening area on the right side of the terminal near the First/Business check-in counter that functions as a hybrid PreCheck/regular screening line. As a Pre passenger, I was allowed the usual Pre privileges, while others in the same line had to remove shoes, laptops etc.

  6. I’ve been through San Jose airport eight times since November and they’ve only done proper pre-check once. The best part is they also have marketing agents for at the security lines selling you cleared access… It is frustrating to see ClearMe access open and no pre-check – almost makes me wonder if SJC gets a kickback on ClearMe access. I’ve also noticed that smaller airports don’t do the same pre-check – i.e. Monterey airport in CA you still have to do everything except remove your shoes. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that they are randomly pushing passengers without GlobalEntry/TSA PreCheck into pre-check lines – luck of the draw – it’s a new TSA thing.

  7. Also I agree Global Entry is the better deal – it saves me hours going back and forth between Canada, South America and the states.

  8. Global Entry member, flew SFO-PHX round trip last week on USAir. Outbound: smooth as could be. Return: Well, perhaps PHX’s metal detectors need to be adjusted. My belt buckle and wedding ring triggered, where they sailed through at SFO. And the TSA people were not pleased. In fact, they were rude.

  9. Came through BUR this evening at 7:15pm only to find the pre-check lane not open and of course only one screener checking IDs. When I got to the scanner I asked the TSA agent why the lane was closed so early and she said Burbank is no longer offering pre-check at all!? Whaaaa?! If true that is a bad decision by BUR management. With three other viable Southwest airline hub airports in LA I will definitely avoid BUR in the future. So frustrating! Why can’t the TSA mandate airports agree to a common set of rules for running their federal program. I know, first world problem but still incredibly frustrating!!!

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