Whatever your opinion on the TSA, it’s clear that both you and the Administration agree that it takes way too long to get through security. TSA pre-check was designed to streamline the security screening process. For $85, a background check, finger printing, and an interview, you can skip taking off your shoes. Ok, it’s a bit better than that. Members use a separate security lane and are permitted to leave laptops, liquids, and etc. inside their bags. Simply put, it’s the express lane. Sounds nice sure, but do you really need it?
Consider it like a subscription. You have to know that you’re going to take advantage of it. $85 gets you five years of express security screening. That’s $17 a year, but the real value is how often you use it. Flying more reduces that theoretical cost. If you fly 100 times over the course of those five years, each Pre-Check process only cost you $0.85, so the frequent flyer is the real winner here. Business has somewhat reliable schedules and time frames that must be met, but leisure isn’t as set. Are you vacationing this year? Are you flying? Are you also doing the same next year? Every year you don’t fly, the value drops. One day you might realize that the cost of your only flight in the past five years was $85 more than it needed to be.
The real selling point is convenience and speed. But how much time do you actually save? If you are using a major airport like JFK or LAX, then the time saved will absolutely mean something. In many cities the security lines are no joke. CNN looked at wait times at Atlanta International and found that “From mid-March to mid-April, there were hundreds of times that passengers waited more than 20 minutes -- and sometimes more than 55 minutes.” TSA promises that, “93% of TSA Pre-Check passengers waited less than 5 min.” Is that legitimate? CNN found that the wait time for Pre-Check members was significantly reduced, with many passengers waiting only five or so minutes. For now Pre-Check can make good on its promise, though as more people apply to the program, the longer the express line becomes.
But what if you frequent, say Fargo, North Dakota? Well it depends on when you fly. At peak times of the year, even Hector International can get crowded with excessive wait times sometimes exceeding 30 to 40 minutes. But during the business week and off peak times, blink and you’ll miss it. When mulling over the benefits of Pre-Check, consider the size of your airport and when you will use it.
Another point to consider when applying for Pre-Check is the information you are trusting with them. When you apply, you are vetted into a database. Every time you give out your personal information, it increases the likelihood of hackers taking it. The Department of Homeland Security released a report detailing the TSA’s faulty IT security measures. From Engadget.com: “The final report from the DHS Office of Inspector General details serious persistent problems with TSA staff's handling of IT security protocols. These issues include servers running software with known vulnerabilities, no incident report process in place, and zero physical security protecting critical IT systems from unauthorized access.” The TSA promises to encrypt your data, but Equifax and nearly every department store in the nation said the same thing.
Pre-Check doesn’t work for every airport either. It applies only to flights departing the U.S., but it does not expedite the customs process. CBP (Customs and Border Protection) has an answer for that though, and it comes in the form of Global Entry.
Global Entry gives you all the benefits of Pre-Check plus expedited screening at Customs and Border Protection checkpoints when entering the U.S. It’s also $15 more, but the application process is nearly the same. For frequent international flyers, this seems like a no brainer. It seems like a far the better deal, but Global Entry is not without its restrictions. Not every foreign carrier participates in the program, and that includes every major Asian airline.
So is it worth it? That’s a question you will have to ask yourself, but don’t expect the answer to get any simpler later. Even now, the TSA and airports are experimenting with further vetting of passengers, meaning more and varied types of security lines are in the future. That same future isn’t clear for the TSA either. According to CNN, “Several of the busiest airports have threatened to replace the TSA with private passenger screening companies.” Do your research and weigh your options. If you are constantly in the air, this is probably something to seriously consider, especially if you frequent major airports. For someone like me who takes maybe one flight a year, maybe pass on it.