Not long ago I went to catch a flight up to Syracuse. There had been bad weather the day before, so a lot of people were making up cancelled trips. Combine that with Easter and school spring breaks and the airport was crowded like I’d never seen it.
I had to go to a dark place, knocking children and suitcases aside, to even get to the security checkpoint. I ended up making my flight only because I cut roughly 90 people in line. As I was standing there panicking about whether I’d actually make my plane, I realized it was probably time for me to do some investigation into this whole TSA PreCheck thing.
I’d always seen the serene-looking green check mark signs advertising the TSA PreCheck program. It was a quick passage to the other side of airport security, away from the hellish lines and bag dumping you normally have to do. And yet I’d never completed the necessary steps to get myself this expedited experience, despite the fact that I’m on a plane every two weeks.
I guess I imagined that obtaining PreCheck would be much like dealing with the DMV — cumbersome and full of waiting around.
Turns out I was totally wrong.
If you want a significantly shorter wait where you don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, and jacket or pull your laptop and your toiletries out of your bag, PreCheck is for you.
— TSA (@TSA) April 22, 2016
How to do it
Ticketed passengers can apply for PreCheck right inside the airport.
You can also head to offices in uptown (1100 S. Mint St.) or in the Galleria shopping center (1848 Galleria Blvd. — located inside an H&R Block) to apply. (There are also offices in Rock Hill and Columbia.)
If you have a flexible schedule, you can get an appointment in just a few days. Otherwise, you might have to wait a week or two to snag one.
What you need to bring
ID. Find a comprehensive list here, but options include:
– An unexpired passport, Enhanced Tribal Card, Green Card or Enhanced Driver’s License.
– Two documents, including a valid photo ID (like a driver’s license) and a document that meets citizenship requirements (like a birth certificate).
Here’s what you can expect at your appointment
If you’ve pre-enrolled and filled out the necessary forms ahead of time online, the representative scans copies of your identification and has you verify that the documents you completed are still accurate.
You didn’t get married or arrested in the past week? Perfect. Pay the $85 fee (worth it for the five years of PreCheck). From there, you get fingerprinted and are sent on your merry way.
They tell you you’ll get your “known traveler number” within 30 days, but I went online the following afternoon and found mine waiting for me. Next time I fly I’m fast passing my way through security like I’m at Disney ready to ride It’s a Small World.
Overall, the entire process was much more streamlined than I had anticipated. It’s definitely worth it if you travel a lot, or if you fly during high-volume times.
Want more info? Check out the TSA pre-check website here.
Photo: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer; Jeff Willhelm/Charlotte Observer