Don’t Be a Pleb: What You Need to Know About TSA Precheck Enrollment

Anyone familiar with my project/blog Urban Cheap Ass knows that I’m a cheap mofo who likes to travel using websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights to locate awesome airfare prices abroad, and am currently hacking United Basic Economy so I don’t have to pay extra for a carry-on bag (I thought this was ‘Merica, what’s RyanAir doing here?!).

When it comes to traveling in style, you certianly can’t be caught waiting in long security lines with the plebs. From a practical standpoint, there’s simply too much variability in terms of the lengths of these lines. This variability makes it so that you can come to the airport way too early on a day when lines are practically non-existent, or get a little too cocky, only to deal with the awful opposite situation where long lines make you cut it close to catching your flight (or missing it completely!).

I once won a horseracing bet in Ireland by betting 10 Euros on my horse, Bet the Cat, to win at something like 17 to 1 odds. My 110+ Euro payout was certainly exciting, but I’ve got to admit—I’m not really a gambling person. I’m guessing that if you landed on this article, you probably aren’t either.

tsa precheck enrollment
Before: Choosing my winning horse
tsa precheck enrollment
After: Cashing in on my winning horse

So, why not increase your odds of a pleasant airport experience by getting started with TSA Precheck enrollment?

Why TSA Precheck Enrollment is so Awesome

There’s not a whole lot to explaining the basic perks of TSA Precheck enrollment. In fact, I’ve already basically covered them: skipping the line ahead of the plebs and feeling VIP while doing it. Certainly, being able to skip ahead definitely comes in handy during busy travel days that could otherwise result in hours-long lines. Yuck.

If you need more convincing as to the insane usefulness of TSA Precheck enrollment, consider the cost and effective dates. The TSA precheck cost works out to being $17/year for 5 years (or $85 total). It’s certainly worth the investment for the time it saves!

Even if you fly domestically just once a year, you’re buying the guarantee of not waiting in the airport’s longest lines—surely that’s worth at least $17/year. To be well-rounded in my analysis, TSA Precheck lines are certainly starting to get a bit more clogged as the idea catches on, but I promise you—their lines will never be as long as the standard security lines!

tsa precheck enrollment
The people in the line over must be wishing they had gone with TSA Precheck instead of waiting forever to get to their flights. Image Source

TSA Precheck Enrollment: The Process

Here’s where shit gets a little annoying. In order to become TSA precheck approved, you’re going to have to spend some of your valuable free time in a government office. On that note, it’s not something you can really do on a whim—you’ll want to make an appointment. Sure, walk-ins are accepted, but knowing that your scheduled appointment is likely to start late, you shouldn’t expect there to be any extra free time to squeeze in a walk-in. Do yourself a favor and just schedule a damn appointment.

Another option for TSA Precheck enrollment? If you’re at an airport with time to kill, many have TSA offices that offer the opportunity to complete the process on-site. Sure beats sitting at your gate and twiddling your thumbs for hours!

In order to be approved for TSA precheck enrollment, you’ll need to bring some identification. A passport and drivers license will do the trick. Here’s where things get a little weird—TSA agents require that you be fingerprinted before approving your application for TSA Precheck. Dan, the co-founder of Tanks that Get Around, thinks that this is a government conspiracy to get us all fingerprinted, and I can’t say that I disagree.

TL:DR, as far as the process goes, TSA Precheck enrollment looks something like this:

  • Set up an appointment for your local TSA office online
  • Get to your appointment on time and wait for 30 minutes to an hour past your scheduled time
  • Present your passport and get fingerprinted (#governmentconspiracy)
  • GTFO out of there and do something fun with the rest of the time left in your day that the government didn’t mercilessly waste for their own fun (#bureaucracy)

TSA Precheck Enrollment: The Drawbacks

As great as TSA Precheck enrollment is, there are certainly a few things you should know as an educated traveler before going through the process to get approved.

First, and as already alluded to, everyone and their mom (Ok, not my mom. Yet.) is using it. The TSA’s website says that there are already 5 million people enrolled. Because of this, it’s becoming less effective as a quick way to skip the long lines.

Results certainly vary by airport and by day. To give a few personal experiences, I’ve had a lot of luck with TSA Precheck at Chicago O’Hare Airport and Denver International Airport during otherwise busy travel days/hours. My luck was not as good at Newark International Airport.

Second, there are annoying lookalikes popping up that go by the name “Clear”. It’s like the next level of exclusivity when it comes to clearing airport security in a timely fashion. Just as an FYI, it’s $15/month, but reaches past just airport security to include quick access to entertainment (like entering a sports stadium). What’s weird about Clear is the fact that it isn’t run by the government—it’s a private company that has created what has become somewhat of an insult to those who’ve gone through the annoying process of becoming TSA Approved.

At any rate, with all the corruption that exists in the world (I may be biased and paranoid after just finishing Why They Do It, a dossier on white collar crimes), Clear seems like something that shouldn’t be allowed to function in a post-9/11 world where airport transit is otherwise so heavily regulated by the government.

I think Portlandia provides the perfect commentary as far as this “next level” of airport security VIP status:

While we’re talking about drawbacks and limitations, we might as well also throw in some important considerations for making use of your new line-skipping status. First, once you get your Known Traveler ID after getting TSA approved, you’ve got to make sure to remember to add this in with your flight reservation. If you don’t, your boarding pass won’t reflect your TSA precheck status, and you’ll get slowed down at the airport and will have to go back to your airline’s check-in desk to reprint your boarding pass. If you’re all about mobile boarding passes, forgetting to initially add in this identifying number will definitely hurt your flow and experience.

Perhaps the most important thing to know before getting approved for TSA precheck is the fact that you can’t upgrade TSA Precheck to Global Entry, which is more all-encompassing if you’re an international traveler. Global Entry is only $15 more total and is effective for the same amount of time (5 years). It was a slap in the face when I found this out after the fact, especially as it was not presented as an option when I physically went in to initiate this process!

TSA Precheck Enrollment

Show off the fact that you’re a sassy and savvy traveler with some tanks to show your worldliness. If you’re not sure where to start, consider the Lake Titicaca Tank Top, one of my favorites:

lake titicaca

This is my second favorite, btw:

tsa precheck enrollment

Will you be applying for TSA Precheck enrollment? Anything else readers should know about the process or perks? Let us know in the comments below, or by tweeting at @tanksgetaround!

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