In 2001, the creation of the Transportation Security Agency, or TSA, led to a number of security-based changes to travel. Something known as an airport security checkpoint was created, along with the long lines that came with it. Waiting in a long security line at the airport can be frustrating and stressful. Amidst growing discontent from travelers, the TSA launched a program in 2011 called TSA Precheck. This system was introduced to help expedite the security screening process by pre-screening frequent travelers and giving special status to those deemed low-risk.

What do I get with TSA Precheck status?

Travelers with TSA Precheck status gain the benefits of shorter security lines and less inconvenience at the security checkpoints. In the TSA Precheck line, travelers need not remove their shoes, belts, and light jackets from their person, or their computers or liquids from their carry on baggage. In addition to the convenience, TSA Precheck security lines almost always take less than ten minutes, and often less than five. This is compared to the average of roughly thirty minutes for the normal lines. It’s important to note that having TSA Precheck status does not guarantee any special treatment. The TSA has put on the record that it retains the right to screen any traveler and their belongings at any time. That said, it is very rare that TSA Precheck approved travelers do not receive the benefits available to them.

For those who travel often, you may have occasionally found that your boarding pass allows you to use the TSA Precheck line. The Transportation Security Agency runs a program to randomly select passengers to send through the special security checkpoint. However, the rumor on the street is that the TSA is reducing the number of persons sent through the pre-check line without TSA Precheck status. This will have the dual benefit of slightly stronger security, and also a protected market for the TSA. Unfortunately, it will probably mean longer lines for the rest of us.

It is only helpful for flights leaving the United States or within the United States. TSA Precheck doesn’t offer any additional benefits internationally in most cases. If you travel in the U.S. frequently for work or pleasure, applying for TSA Precheck might be worth the cost. It costs only $85 to apply, which is pretty reasonable considering the status is good for five years if you’re approved. Keep in mind that if you are not approved, you do not receive any money back. Many times, people find they don’t even have to pay for it themselves. Many credit cards have current offers that cover the cost of the application.

How do I get TSA Precheck status?

The process works something like this. The first step is to complete a short online application, and schedule an in-person appointment at one of the more than 380 enrollment centers throughout the United States. There are some locations that will accept walk-in appointments, but it is recommended to schedule one in advance. As a walk-in, you may have to wait for an available appointment slot, which can take hours in some cases. The appointment is not an interview, and should only take ten to fifteen minutes to complete. You need to bring three items to your appointment. You need to bring valid photo I.D., a way to pay the $85 fee, and your fingers. The purpose of the appointment is to prove your identity through documentation, submit your fingerprints for file, and pay the fee.

After the appointment, the only thing left to do is wait for the approval or rejection email. It may take several weeks to receive the email. If you are rejected, you do have an opportunity to appeal. The email should include the reason why your application was denied. Contact the enrollment center where you had your appointment. You will need to complete appeal paperwork and make your case to the officials. There is no guarantee that an appeal will lead to an approval of your application, and it may take several months to get the results. Be patient and wait five or six months before you try to follow up. Once you are approved, you will be given something called a Known Traveler Number. This number is very important. You must use it to receive the benefits of TSA Precheck.

How do I use my Known Traveler Number?

Many people don’t understand how to access their benefits immediately. In order to be allowed through the TSA Precheck security line, you must have TSA Precheck status on your boarding pass. This is where the Known Traveler Number, or KTN, comes in. When purchasing flights or signing up for airlines, you must enter your KTN. Without it, you cannot be given TSA Pre-check status on your boarding pass. Occasionally, you might have to option to submit your KTN at a sign-in kiosk, but not always.

The TSA Precheck status is valid for five years and it is renewable. It’s best to renew before it expires. The process is the same as before, but you skip the application part. Start by making an appointment at your local enrollment center. They will recheck your I.D. and retake fingerprints. The nice part is, you will likely hear back within days instead of weeks.

If traveling is an occasional treat for you, then the cost and hassle of going through the TSA Precheck process may not be worth it. If you have to travel for work, you plan multiple trips in a year, or you expect you will soon, it could make the experience a little bit quicker and more comfortable.