I have 5 weeks of travel this year, three of which will start and end at the airport. Last year we made the decision to sign up for TSA PreCheck (shown everywhere as Preü), because as much fun as it is to stand in line with a hundred other people and take half the stuff out of my bag and take off my shoes and get x-rayed, we decided we traveled enough to spend the $85 each to apply for it.
Listen, I understand why the TSA exists and why the procedures are so important. The above inconveniences don't really even bother me, except when I'm stuck behind the person who hasn't done any research or read the 48373602 signs in the airport and in the line and on their ticket and haven't taken out their laptop, put their liquids in a bag at all, taken off their belt and emptied their pockets or even gotten their ID out to show the security desk. Come on, people! They make it easy to be prepared. Just because it's annoying doesn't mean that they won't make you do it.
So, considering I would rather spend less time waiting in line and more time waiting at the gate (or, more likely, eating, shopping, people watching and scrolling Instagram), spending that money was a no-brainer. Did you know that if you are approved for PreCheck that you are able to breeze through security for FIVE YEARS at any American airport that supports it without taking off your shoes, belts, hats or jackets, without taking out your laptop, without segregating your liquids from your other toiletries?! For real.
The PreCheck lines are crazy short. The most we've ever seen was 10 people and usually there are even less. Your pass-through time is cut down considerably, too. In fact, you basically get through the metal detector and wait for your bags to be scanned. It's fast, but not nearly as fast as you are not having to take off shoes and watches and remembering to take that random tissue out of your pocket. Plus, you don't have to wonder exactly what the agents are seeing on he screen that makes you look like a terrorist.
Eric took his hat off as we wee coming back home from Vegas and it fell out of the coin bowl - you know, the one that looks like a dog dish - and was annoyed that he didn't just put it on the conveyor belt. The agent, never looking away from the screen, just said "you should have just left it on." I'm not sure we actually knew you could until that point. This is still our first year of having it, but the second time we've used it and have had no issues at our home airport (PDX), Orlando (ORD) which is one of the busiest airports or Vegas (LAS). Later this year we'll also use it to come home from New Orleans and Anaheim.
Now, you're probably wondering what happens when you travel internationally. We do every few years, but didn't think it was enough to do more than PreCheck at this point. If you do,then instead of PreCheck, you'll want to apply for Global Entry, which automatically includes PreCheck and only costs $15 more. I actually didn't think I knew that when we applied, and probably would have done that instead had I known. So, if you travel at all internationally, just head to your nearest PreCheck office (we visited the one in McCarran Airport when we were already on vacation) with your passport, ID and credit card.
You may need an appointment, so call ahead before just showing up. They take you back one at a time to answer a bunch of background questions. They're all easy and gives the government insight in who you are, so they can check you out and make their decision. It takes up to four weeks to hear if you're approved. We got our approval letters in just two weeks and were really surprised by how fast it was. These letters contain your new travel number, which you enter every time you book an airline ticket.
Whether you use a paper ticket or an eticket on your phone, you'll see PreCheck designated on it and can go directly to that security line and get on your trip faster. You should still get to the airport as early as you would without it though, because you never know if the PreCheck line will be closed (this doesn't usually happen) or there will be some other annoying delay. I say two hours for a domestic flight and three for an international flight. Traffic may suck or the airport may be crazy packed, so you need that bit of padding.
I don't regret for a second having spent the money on PreCheck and will immediately sign up for Global Entry once it expires, even if I only plan two weeks of travel a year. Some people pay that amount per trip to check a bag, so why not get five years of frustration-free airport visits instead? Have you signed up for or used PreCheck on your trips?