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How to Cut the Airport Line

The line at Denver Airport security

Photograph by Education Images/UIG

The line at Denver Airport security

Ask some frequent fliers about the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program, and their eyes widen and their breath quickens. Well, at least mine do—PreCheck, the TSA’s expedited security-check service, has radically changed how I travel, for the better. It’s about to do so for a lot more people.

Until last week, admission to the program—which includes a dedicated, shorter line at security, plus more convenient screening practices that let you keep on your jacket, belt, and shoes—was limited. Airlines were able to invite certain high-mileage fliers into the program; it was also included in Global Entry, the Customs and Border Protection program that lets participants skip the long lines at passport control when you return to the U.S.

Starting in the fall, there will be a new way to get into PreCheck. For $85 and a trip to a TSA office for fingerprinting, anyone who passes the background check gets the VIP treatment. It’s a slow rollout. Only two enrollment centers have been announced—Dulles International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport—but more are expected in subsequent months. The $85 fee covers you for five years, at which time you’ll have to pay again and reapply.

Of course the TSA wants more people in the program. Opening enrollment to a wider group means fewer people who require the regular, full security check (thrilling as it may be). That reduces the burden on TSA staff. It also means more revenue for the agency.

For anyone with an extra $15 lying around, Global Entry remains the better deal. It costs $100 for five years, and you get all the benefits of PreCheck, while also getting expedited service when you return from international travel. But let’s not look a gift TSA inspector in the mouth: Given the state of air travel today, $85 and a trip to the TSA office is a cheap fix.

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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