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TSA PreCheck Decoded: The Essential Know-It-All Guide

Travel tips and tricks about navigating the airport with TSA PreCheck. It’s easy to get approved if you meet the criteria, and this 5 year verification makes travel so much easier when you can go through the PreCheck line.

If you’ve flown lately, you know how long the security lines can be. While TSA PreCheck doesn’t eliminate every headache, even if you travel only a couple times a year, it is well worth the cost.

You’ve seen the horror stories, especially with summer and holiday travel, with long security lines causing people to miss flights and then not being able to rebook for days.

Don’t let this be you.

What exactly is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a program offered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States that provides expedited security screening for eligible travelers at airports. Participants in the program are allowed to go through dedicated PreCheck lanes.

This helps to streamline the security process and allows travelers to experience faster and more convenient screening procedures. However, TSA PreCheck is not available for all flights or airports.

TSA PreCheck does not guarantee expedited screening for every trip, as random or unpredictable security measures may still be implemented on occasion. You also need to know that TSA PreCheck does not exempt travelers from other security procedures, like metal detectors or additional screenings as determined by TSA agents.

TSA PreCheck Tips and tricks from a travel pro

Does everyone need TSA PreCheck?

Well, technically, no. If everyone had TSA PreCheck, those lines would be almost as long.

However, TSA PreCheck lines move faster because laptops don’t have to come out, shoes and jackets don’t have to come off, etc. Those security measures slow things down.

If you already have Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, or hold an active TWIC or Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with an HME, you do not need PreCheck.

What is the TSA PreCheck age for kids?

Young children can go through the PreCheck line with you so long as you have PreCheck on your boarding pass. However, anyone over 12 years old who flies needs their own TSA PreCheck.

If you are traveling with your own children under the age of 13 on the same reservation, they can go through the TSA PreCheck line with you because they are under the TSA PreCheck age. Expect TSA agents to ask kids who look close to 13 how old they are.

Note: while children 13-17 traveling on the same itinerary as an adult with PreCheck may go through the PreCheck line so long as their boarding passes show the PreCheck logo.

However, children may or may not have this show on on their boarding passes, and you never know when they will or won’t. I do not want to risk my child having to go through the “regular” security line, so I chose to get PreCheck for my children once they turn 13.

How much does TSA PreCheck cost?

The cost is $78 paid at the time of your interview. If your application is denied, you do not receive a refund of this fee.

When your five years is up, you have the option to renew online. At this time, the renewal online is cheaper at $70, which makes it absolutely worth it to renew. If you have to renew in person, the cost is $78.

Note that many credit cards offer free TSA PreCheck once every four to five years, depending on the card, via a statement credit after you pay for it with that card. Check your card benefits to see if they offer it.

What are the TSA PreCheck benefits?

Because those with PreCheck status have been prescreened and deemed low risk, some of the recent security measures will no longer apply when your ticket is marked with PreCheck status and you are flying in an airport that offers PreCheck benefits.

You can leave laptops and liquids in your suitcase (though the amount of liquid you are allowed to carry does not change). Make sure you keep your liquids in the quart size bag, as well.

(These are my FAVORITE liquid travel containers that are the perfect size and are reusable. It’s way easier and cheaper than buying travel size items each time!)

And you can leave your light jackets (not coats), shoes, and belts on when going through security. This alone makes the line move faster.

Can I use it anytime I fly?

That depends on what airlines you fly and where you travel. If you travel internationally, you can use it when you leave the States, but when you fly from the foreign country back here, you will not have special accommodations.

TSA PreCheck works only at airports within the United States. There is no TSA outside the US, as each country has their own airport security.

If you travel internationally with any regularity, get Global Entry instead. The cost is marginally higher at $100 and offers the same benefits as TSA PreCheck with the addition of international travel.

Most major airlines participate in PreCheck, but check the participating airlines list to verify. Some of the major airlines that participate include:

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit, Sun Country
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • WestJet

If you fly with an airline that does not participate, your PreCheck won’t benefit you on that flight.

TSA has also put out a heads up that you are not guaranteed expedited screening every time you fly, as they will use “unpredictable security measures” at airports.

I have yet to experience this in the eight years that I have had and used PreCheck. I do know others who have, howver, so always check your boarding pass before you leave for the airport to ensure you know how much time to leave yourself.

Even when I flew to Jamaica and Delta wouldn’t let me check in online because my passport expires within a year, I still retained my TSA PreCheck when I arrived at the airport the day of my flight.

Does every airport have PreCheck?

Unfortunately, no. Most airports do, but there are some that do not yet have this capability.

Some airports do not have dedicated security lanes and during off peak hours some airports do not have their dedicated lanes open. I’ve seen this at John Wayne Airport, Boston Logan Airport, Burlington, and more.

In those cases, I received a card from TSA that meant I didn’t have to remove my shoes or jacket. However, I still had to go through the longer line to get through the security process, as it is the regular screening line otherwise.

When you run into this, expect to have to remove your laptop and liquids from your suitcase.

You can also check to see what airports do and do not currently offer TSA PreCheck.

How do I get qualified for TSA PreCheck?

TSA has an application process you must follow that includes both online applications and in person interviews. Keep in mind that the in person TSA PreCheck appointments are often booked for months depending on where you live, so plan well in advance, just like when you renew your passport.

TSA Application Process

Fill out an application online. You must create an account that matches your legal name on your passport to do the application.

Even if you choose to do a walk in meeting (and check and double check that where you plan to go offers this) rather than an appointment, fill out the application. This saves you a ton of time in information you otherwise have to provide and verify in person during your interview.

Once you fill out your application, you have 120 days to complete your enrollment in person. If you don’t complete the process within 120 days, you will have to fill out a new application.

There is no cost to the online application, as you pay when you have your meeting to review your application and background.

Can I apply for TSA PreCheck with a gender that doesn’t match my legal documents?

Yes. Flat out, yes. You absolutely can.

When you do your application, you can choose female, male, or another gender as your gender.

The gender you select on your application does not need to match your legal gender, your gender at birth, the gender on your identification documents, or the gender on your airline reservation.

The same holds true when you fly in that you will receive your TSA PreCheck benefits even if your current gender does not match what you provided when you were approved for PreCheck.

Similarly, you can update your gender with TSA by calling (855) 347-8371 weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET and requesting a gender data update. You do not have to do this, however, as your gender does not need to match your travel documents.

If you also change your name, that absolutely needs to be updated. Please see below for more information on that process.

Do I need a TSA PreCheck appointment?

Technically no, but they help. If you have an appointment, you have first priority at the facility.

Conceivably, you could show up at 11:25 for an 11:30 appointment and be out of there by 11:40 or even earlier.

If you do not have a TSA PreCheck appointment and the facility is fully booked, it is possible that you will not be able to have your application processed that day. Book an appointment if you can to save the hassle.

Can I avoid waiting for an appointment months away?

I feel your pain. When I filled out my application in early April, all locations near me had no appointments until late May. I had travel at the end of April and found a location that took only walk-ins (so the website said – it lied) and one I figured would be less busy given its location.

Walk-ins receive a TSA PreCheck interview only once those with current appointments finish. At 11:35, all 11:30 appointments receive priority. 11:45 appointments wait until 11:45 unless there are no walk-ins waiting.

I lucked out and waited only an hour and a half before there was a break for me to interview. I had just six walk-ins ahead of me, which shows the benefit of appointments.

At least at this location, they schedule 2 appointments at the hour and half hour. They also offer just one appointment at :15 and :45, which gives some time to get walk-ins interviewed if everyone has all their ducks in a row.

Don’t count on people being prepared with everything they need for the process to go smoothly and quickly, however.

If you can wait for an appointment because you haven’t yet booked travel or it’s far enough away, go ahead and book the appointment to save yourself the stress of waiting. You may find limited appointment availability with appointment times showing more than a month or two before the first opening.

The wait times at many locations mean they limit walk-ins each day or prohibit them entirely, but that may change again.

What documents do I bring to the interview?

The big thing you need is appropriate identification. If you do not have this, you will not be able to complete your interview or be approved.

  • A passport is US government issued and makes the process go the fastest, so if you have one, bring that.
  • If you have an Enhanced Driver’s License, this also works, but not every state offers this. This is not the same as a Real ID. Only Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington State offer them.
  • If you don’t, you will need your Driver’s License and your birth certificate. Those are the easiest sets of documents and the ones more people tend to have.

Note that your birth certificate must be one with the official seal or a certified copy. Do not bring a photocopy of your birth certificate.

If your birth certificate does not match the name on your official document, note that you must bring the linking document such as a marriage license.

If you don’t have a passport, you can check out other acceptable documentation here.

How can I make my interview process more efficient?

First, even if you are doing a walk in interview, fill out the TSA PreCheck application online.

Once completed, you will receive an email confirmation with a Universal Enrollment ID. Write it down.

One of the things that took the longest for other people was either filling out the application information with the interviewer or the interviewer trying to find their application via search. Having the UE ID at hand makes it a few seconds to dig up your application.

You cannot to use your phone in the interview room, so don’t count on being able to search for that email and ID in the room.

What happens at the TSA PreCheck appointment?

At the interview, you first verify all the information on your application. If you have not filled out an application, you do this with the interviewer, which takes additional time.

You need to provide the appropriate documentation, such as your passport or driver’s license and birth certificate. They do not keep your documents but return them to you at the end of the interview.

The interviewer will ask you questions, which varies. You may be asked how often you travel, about your employment, and so foth. They are basic questions that are easy to answer.

You also consent to a background check, and they will fingerprint you. Generally, this is digital fingerprinting, which means no ink you need to wash off later.

Before you leave, you pay the $78 fee.

What forms of payment can I use at my TSA PreCheck appointment?

A credit card is the easiest form of payment, especially if you have a credit card that reimburses you for your application fee.

TSA also accepts debit cards, money orders, company checks, or certified checks. Note that personal checks and cash are not accepted.

How long does it take to get my TSA PreCheck approval?

My interviewer told me  it would take about 3 weeks to find out the status of my application. That said, you can check your TSA PreCheck application status online at any time.

When I checked, I received approval less than 48 hours after visiting the center. I knew only because I checked online.

I did not receive a letter (dated 2 days after I completed my enrollment in person) with my Known Traveler Number (KTN) for more than two weeks afterwards. Don’t wait for the letter if you have travel coming.

You can begin to use your KTN as soon as you know it, regardless of whether you have received the official approval in the mail or not.

What is a KTN?

KTN is your Known Traveler Number. When you make your travel arrangements, you will see a spot near where you input your frequent flier number to add your KTN.

This is the number you receive with your TSA PreCheck approval. You almost always see your Known Traveler Number referred to as a KTN rather than having it written out all the way.

Your KTN is unique to you and stays the same when you renew it, unlike when you apply for a passport where they assign a new number with each new passport..

How does the airline know that I have PreCheck?

When you make your reservation, there is a place to add your KTN in the reservation, just like you do your frequent flier number.

I recommend that you save it in your profile on the airline’s website. This automatically populates your KTN for future travel if you book that way.

You can also add it to your profile on other travel sites like Orbitz or Expedia so that when you make reservations, it will populate. Always check to verify that it is in your reservation before you check in for your flight, however!

If you check in without adding your KTN, you cannot always add it to receive your PreCheck benefits. The closer you are to your flight time, the less likely you will be able to add it to your reservation.

Can I use my new TSA PreCheck if I have travel already booked?

You can add your KTN into your reservation up until the point that you check in for your flight. If you already made your flight reservations, simply update your reservation on the airline’s website with your KTN.

You can also call the airline and have them add it for you. As with most self-sevice, it’s just as easy to do it yourself (and you avoid the hold time).

I forgot to put my KTN into my reservation, and I already checked in for my flight. Now what?

Unless your boarding pass has the PreCheck symbol, you won’t be able to use your PreCheck status. If you checked in online, you can cancel your check in and then add your KTN, which often works.

Sometimes, you can also get an agent at check in to help you and add it to your reservation, but this does not always work. In recent years, it has become easier, however.

Do not count on being able to add it, however, when you calculate your time to get to the airport. If you cannot get it added, you do not want to risk missing your flight.

TSA PreCheck won’t solve all your travel woes. You’ll still have bad weather, missed flights, cancellations, long delays, and – yes – even long lines for security screening at the airport. This isn’t a complete solution.

Even so, it’s the best opportunity to reduce travel headaches that we have at the moment, even if you aren’t a super frequent traveler.

What do I do if I change my name?

If you change your name, update it with TSA as soon as you have the appropriate documentation. You can do this as soon as you have the supporting documentation around your name change.

If you change your name, you cannot travel under the new name and receive TSA PreCheck benefits until your name change process is completed.

To update your information, you can either call TSA Customer Service at (855) 347-8371 weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET or submit a request online to start the process. They will tell you exactly what you need, but in general you will need to provide:

  • Government issued ID with your new name (passport or driver’s license) and
  • Marriage license, divorce decree, or court records showing your name change

The call or online inquiry is simply the start of the process. Once you provide the documentation requested, it then must be processed and can take two to three months from then.

For those who need to travel in the interim, some found the best solution was to update either a driver’s license or a passport but not both and then make travel arrangements in the old name and use the not updated identification to travel until the name change process is complete.

Once the name change process is complete, then they update the documentation with the old name. The key is to remember what name use for reservations and to have the correct identification with you whenever you travel.

How long is TSA PreCheck valid?

TSA PreCheck is valid for five years from the date of approval. When you receive your letter, it includes information on how long it remains valid.

You can also log into the TSA website at any point to check your account and verify when it expires.

How do I renew my TSA PreCheck?

You can renew TSA PreCheck up to six months prior to its expiration, but TSA recommends you renew at least 60 days before renewal because of their current backlog.

Unlike when you get a passport, your renewal tacks time onto your existing PreCheck authorization, so you have no incentive to wait until the last minute. If your renewal expires in December and you renew in May, the renewal adds five years starting with the December date.

Most people can renew online, and that is easiest. You also pay $70 versus $78 to renew in person.

TSA sends you emails when it’s time to renew to the email address you used when you applied for the program. Look for an email from Universal Enroll six months, three months, one month, and two weeks prior to expiration.

If you change email addresses, be sure to update it in your account so you receive updates. You can also always check online in your account to verify the expiration date.

The email provides instructions on how to renew, and it’s a fairly quick and painless process to do it online.

If you changed your name since you first applied for PreCheck, you must renew in person if you have not already updated your name with TSA. Note that it can take up to three months for a name change to go through, so change it as soon as you have the documentation to do so to avoid having to renew in person.

One note, if you let your TSA PreCheck expire, you must submit a new application, and you will receive a new KTN.

Did I miss anything? What else do you want to know about the TSA PreCheck program?

TSA PreCheck: What is it? How do you get it? Why would you want it? Travel tips and tricks to make navigating airports faster and eaiser

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Sharon Wheaton

Sunday 12th of February 2023

A four hour drive to get to and from a place for interviews, any other way to get the number. I had a precheck before they started charging, then it disappeared


Tuesday 28th of February 2023

It does require an in person appointment to verify your identity, etc. There are over 500 locations where you can do it, so fingers crossed there is one closer than 4 hours away for you. You do need to have the in person appointment to get approved for precehck.


Tuesday 3rd of January 2023

I have a turning-13 year old I want to get precheck for to be the same as the rest of us. The required proof of ID is unexpired, state photo ID. She has no such thing. They don’t even give school student IDs at her age/grade. Will she get rejected when we show up to the appt with just her birth certificate?


Tuesday 28th of February 2023

I applied for both my children when they turned 13. We used their passports, which is an acceptable proof of ID. You will be rejected if you come with just a birth certificate, but hopefully you have an unexpired passport.

Sharon m. Krug

Friday 22nd of July 2022

My interviewer was very nice. It was easy, efficient and quick.


Sunday 24th of July 2022

So glad to hear it! We had a very similar experience when we did this. I'm glad it worked well for you.

Mellesa R Ramey

Sunday 10th of July 2022

What can I do if I made a mistake on the application? It has been over a month and I haven't received my number. We are leaving on July 22nd.


Monday 11th of July 2022

If you made a mistake on the application, it depends on what the mistake was. If it was for a passport or biographical piece of information (e.g., name or your date of birth), then you need to submit a new application with the full fee again. If it was another mistake, you can correct it online when you log in and click the check individual status button and follow the prompts there. That said, have you had your interview yet? You will not get your TSA number until after you've completed your in person interview after submitting your application. You can always check the status by logging into your account to see exactly where it's at, as well.

Enjoy All The Free Beaches Resorts Water Sports - Honest And Truly!

Sunday 8th of November 2020

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