A TSA PreCheck sign hangs in an airport.

The Pros and Cons of TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is a service designed to get people through airport security lines faster. $85 gets you a five-year membership. You apply online, then make a 10-minute visit in person that includes a background check, fingerprinting, and a whole checklist of other personal data reviews. The visits may need to be scheduled pretty far out in advance, and once the application is in, you could be waiting a month or more to hear back. They're trying to lighten the load with pop-up checkpoints at hotels and music festivals to make it easier for you. But should you actually do it?

Pro: Faster Line

TSA claims that 3 million members use the service, but that's still a tiny minority of the number of people who travel by air every year. They're claiming that 95% of PreCheck fliers experienced wait times of five minutes or less. That's pretty significant, considering that they're currently recommending you show up two hours early to the airport for domestic flights these days, and then delivering even worse service than that. This year wait times in some places have reached three hours or more, stranding passengers and prompting an act in the House of Representatives that was so enthusiastically received that it passed unanimously under suspension of the rules. Unfortunately, it still has to pass through the Senate, but the fact that it roared through the house in something like two weeks should tell you everything about how dire the situation is. With PreCheck, you can bypass all that.

Cons: It costs $85

That's not a lot of money for a service that lasts five years of traveling, but it still seems too much for membership to a club that bumps customer service up from "these people are embarrassing themselves" to "quasi-competent." Granted, a lot of people think it's worth it. JetBlue is even covering the cost for its most frequent fliers.

Pro: Keep Your Belt On

With PreCheck, you don't need to take off your belt and shoes. You don't need to pull out your laptop or your liquids. (It seems you do still need to keep them in a bag.) You can walk through the security line while still retaining a measure of decency. In fact, you don't have to pay attention to much of that whole checklist of items other travelers have to abide by. The fact that people don't have to all wander through the same ridiculous dance might also go a long way towards explaining why the line moves so much faster.

Con: You Might Not Need It Soon

There are a few things that might help speed your airport check-in along. For instance, the afore-mentioned Congressional bill. But there are other pressures on them to perform, as well. The TSA isn't actually a law enforcement agency. In fact, when they rolled out badges that looked like police badges, real police officers got pretty upset. They're basically a government-owned security service. When the post office drops the ball, you can always turn to FedEx and UPS. Likewise, airports are starting to look to other security companies to provide the services that TSA provides now. Shaking up management helped the TSA in Chicago, but might not save them everywhere. A private-security pilot program has 22 airports enrolled right now, and they say it seems to be helping. Right now Kansas City and San Francisco International are the only major airports involved, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has threatened to replace TSA, Phoenix's Sky Harbor is considering it, and Sea-Tac is also mulling it over. These private firms still have to follow TSA regulations and checklist guidelines, but considering that the summer travel bump will likely be over by the time your PreCheck approval is in, it might be worth waiting to see how this breaks. As things start to settle with this private security option, we get to learn whether the procedure wastes time or the agency itself does. If your money is on the latter, you might hold out and see if private security takes off. Who knows; the growing sense of competition might compel TSA to expedite things, itself. Either way, if the situation improves on its own, it might wind up saving you time and money.

Con: The Principle of the Thing

Something about paying extra for these people to do their job just feels a little bit like extortion. One of the reasons the TSA said they were experiencing long times this summer is that not as many people signed up for PreCheck as they had hoped. We saw in Chicago that they can be doing better, so the fact that they're both dragging their feet and presenting a pay-for-play option to fix it just seems wrong.

Is It Worth It?

In the end, it can definitely save you time by allowing you to forgo a whole checklist of regulations. But again, the fact that paying an extra fee to save time that didn't need wasting in the first place is something of an irritation. It all boils down to whether you have a problem with it on principle, and if you do, whether you travel often enough to waste two hours of your life making a stand or not.

(featured image via Instagram)

Last Updated: July 11, 2017