Should You Consider Paying for Expedited Airport Security?

For anyone who has to fly on a regular basis, shuffling snail-like through a long security line has become a regular and often exasperating routine of travel. Who hasn’t experienced the anxiety of re-packing in a flurry after a security check, while praying you can still make it to the gate on time?

For those who want to speed up that process, there are options… for a fee. Most notable among them is TSA PreCheck, which allows you to bypass the initial security line by flashing your Known Traveler Number (KTN). You can then skip the hassle of removing your shoes, belt, light jacket, or taking your laptop and liquids out of your bag. In most cases, you can usually avoid the full body scan and pat down ritual as well. TSA claims more than 95 percent of PreCheck users make it through security in five minutes or less.

PreCheck has slowly grown in popularity, and the program is adding 11 new airlines, including Canadian, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic, for a total of 30 participating airlines. Enrollment is fairly easy: sign up at TSA.gov, then schedule a 10-minute appointment at one of TSA’s many centers (at your local airport) for a background check and fingerprinting session.

The cost? $85 for a five-year membership.

Is it worth it? Everyone has their own tipping point. If you’re a frequent flyer who finds the whole security rigmarole just too tedious, or are a perpetually late airport arriver, then it’s probably a good investment for peace of mind alone. For those who travel less often, wear Crocs and sweatpants on the plane, or take a Zen approach to the whole proceedings, it may not be worth it. You can also just hope a PreCheck pass gets randomly stamped on your boarding pass, but that surprise freebie for non-enrolled travelers is being phased out.

Another option is to enroll in CLEAR, a private trusted-traveler program that recently expanded its service and is now found at 22 airports in the U.S. The enrollment process is similar to PreCheck, but also includes biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and iris patterns in the eye that are used to speed members past the ID check line and straight to the front of the physical screening line. CLEAR is more predictable than PreCheck and gets you to the screening area faster, but at $179 per year it’s probably only an investment for the frequent traveler to consider. The program is partly owned by Delta, so preferred members of that airline may qualify for discounted CLEAR memberships.

Also, if you fly first or business class, your elite status allows you to step into what’s typically a shorter line for those passengers only.

Or, you may just want to wait and see how TSA’s new automated security screening lanes help alleviate wait times, and if they’ll be expanded to other airports. Recently launched in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Newark and Miami, the automated system uses bins that are 25 percent larger and allow five passengers at once to load their belongings. The bins run along a conveyer belt that returns empty bins to the front, while conveying flagged baggage to an inspection area. So far, TSA estimates the automated lanes have reduced wait times at screening checkpoints by 30 percent.

Whatever program you might choose, or not, flyers can only hope that TSA’s new efforts at streamlining the security process leads to faster lines, and takes a little of the stress out of travel.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

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