Do You Need TSA Precheck?

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The question is blunt: do you need TSA PreCheck to ensure airport survival? Or can you tough it out in regular security queues in what is expected to be a summer of especially long and slow lines?

To review, TSA Precheck - cost is $85 for five years - requires a traveler to appear at a TSA office, typically with a passport in hand (some state driver's licenses are acceptable ID), and after approval the traveler uses expedited, fast track lines at some airports and with many airlines.

Here are airlines that presently offer PreCheck - Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, Virgin America, and WestJet.

A benefit is that with PreCheck there's no need to remove belts, shoes, small liquids, laptops, and light jackets. Lines generally move briskly.

Compare that to the cries of anger mixed with pain that travelers forced to endure long - sometimes 2+ hours - security lines are shouting, often with hashtag #IHateTheWait.

Many travelers also now are complaining about planes missed because of long lines.

Word of advice: if your employer will reimburse the $85, don't be a fool. Sign up tout de suite.

Some credit cards - notably American Express Platinum - pick up the $85 for cardholders.

The real question is what about the rest of us with skinflint employers or self-employed or without the right credit cards? Is there any reason for us not to get TSA PreCheck? Sure, if you generally fly an airline that does not participate, also if you generally fly out of an airport that doesn't (some 160 now do, according to the TSA but that leaves thousands - most very small - that don't).

Those who are in TSA PreCheck often become raving fans.

Listen to Tom Fakes, who blogs about hotel deals at fhrnews.com: "I'm a huge fan of the TSA Pre program, and have had it for a few years now. I'm a worrier about being on time, and with the way the airport security lines are working today, I could be very early, or very late. The TSA Pre program allows me to be able to plan my airport arrival, and have a less stressful travel experience."

Fakes added: "Think of [the $85 cost as] about the cost of just five Starbucks coffees every year, but instead of the long line at a coffee shop, you're avoiding the long line at the airport - maybe you can use the time saved to get a coffee once past security."

Scott Long, a frequent flier who is publisher of Ante Up Poker Media, shrewdly observed that some of us can't do math. We kvetch about ponying up $85 to to the government for PreCheck but "we're in an era when travelers easily pay $15-$50 for seat assignments, baggage, in-flight Internet and more," said Long.

Elizabeth Aldrich in Portland, OR said: "For three years, I traveled on a weekly basis as an Admission Representative for a major university. After the first year, I decided to pay for TSA PreCheck. Being that I was averaging two domestic flights per week, it was more than worth the money. I was often scrambling last minute to rush from appointments and meetings to my flights, and there were a number of times that I almost certainly would have missed my flight if I hadn't had TSA PreCheck."

Lou Altman, a frequent flier out of Portsmouth, NH, added to the praise: "As business travelers we generally want to move quickly, get where we are going, get the work done and get home. While PreCheck doesn't speed up the trip, it does remove the prospect of standing in long lines behind infrequent travelers who don't really know the routine at airport security."

Hold on, however. Maybe you shouldn't be persuaded that PreCheck is the fast track to a better airport experience.

Huh?

April Stratemeyer, a PR executive in Seattle, explained: "The last few times I've used [PreCheck], my average time through security was under two minutes. But then again, maybe I don't want the masses to know about how great it is because that'll just make our lines longer right? Let's hope no one catches on."

That last bit is a valid worry, incidentally. TSA budget cuts have prompted it to cutback on some PreCheck lines and now - as the agency aggressively markets the program - worrywarts are busy with PreCheck doomsday scenarios that see popularity ruining the program.

Could that happen? Yep. Will it? That is the question.

—Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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