TSA PreCheckI just went through security for the first time at Albany International Airport (it’s not exactly an international airport; I only saw domestic flights on the departures board but I believe some flights used to fly into Canada.) The security line had about a dozen people in it and as I made my way to the TSA PreCheck lane, an airport worker (not the TSA), yelled at me and said I was going the wrong way, as there’s only one security line. “Even for passengers with TSA PreCheck?” I asked. He answered yes, but said I would still get the benefits PreCheck affords passengers. I was thinking to myself, ‘isn’t one of the benefits to get a shorter line?’ but I wasn’t in the mood for arguing and I wasn’t in a hurry.

In the regular line, I noticed the TSA agent handing nine out of 10 of the passengers a laminated TSA PreCheck card that stated that passengers did not have to “take off your shoes, belt, headwear or lighter outer garment.” But the next paragraph read that you must “divest your laptop computer and 3-1-1 compliant bag of liquids and must place them in a divesting bin.”

Divest? Really? Do you think most passengers know what divest means? I had to look it up. And worse yet, all the passengers around me had no idea what TSA PreCheck was. Now, I’m not even sure what the point of having TSA PreCheck is. Aren’t you supposed to be “pre-checked” with an interview? According to the TSA website, the PreCheck program “allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel.” But in order to receive this privilege, you must apply, undergo a background check, provide fingerprints, have an interview, etc. Only once approved and granted a Known Traveler Number, should you then be able to use the TSA PreCheck line.

So – what gives if TSA agents are randomly handing out TSA PreCheck cards and what does this mean for the safety of passengers and the security process as a whole?

49 Comments On "Does TSA PreCheck Mean What We Think It Means?"
  1. Joanna Migala Janssen|

    I agree Johnny, too many times I have gone through TSA precheck lanes and the TSA agents are redirecting non prescreened passages through the Lane because these lines are shorter. I have now seen this numerous times at LAS, SNA and SLC. Then the lines slow down because these people don’t understand they do not have to remove jackets, computers etc. I guess I spent $100 for GE to get this privilege, including waiting months for an interview, fingerprints, background check so I can watch someone get in front of me and
    know not what to do…sheeesh!

  2. Elizabeth Hansen|

    It’s been my experience that TSA PreCheck is interpreted differently at “minor” airports (such as Albany). This is actually pretty surprising since TSA is a nationwide program. But it is what it is…and what it is is inconsistent. On a recent trip my husband and I passed through multiple airports and only in San Jose, did the TSA confiscate his teeny tiny Swiss Army knife…same carry-on bag, same knife. It just seems to be their thing in SJC because while we watched, they nabbed several other Swiss Army carrying passengers.

    1. Anonymous|

      Many small airport don’t have space/money to do a PreCheck line so they do the Card thing.
      The letting many people go thru PreCheck is go get them to see how nice it is and give our Government $100 to do it. It’s all about $
      The 2″ Swiss Army knife is because the Crybaby Stewardess’ Union whined about letting us have them but you can bring on 24″ sewing needles and sharpened dinner kniives and plastic knives. American’s are ruled by the whiny minority!

  3. Mickie|

    It is that way at my home airport every week. They have a dedicated pre-check lane and at 5 am on a Sunday I was behind two families with 3 kids each and no clue what they were doing. I would have spent less time in line going thru regular security lanes. I have been pre-check since inception and it continually gets worse. At inception it was a convenience for frequent travelers to apples up time spent in security. Now it’s a dumping ground for the elderly and families they don’t want clogging up standard security lines. Yes, I am very disenchanted with it.

  4. CD|

    Completely agree. Having submitted to the interview and paid $100 for global entry, it is very frustrating that the airlines or agents just put randoms in the line. I’m happy you were handed the cards because when I’ve been in the airport people have no idea WHAT to do and they take their belts and shoes off and hold you up. I don’t really understand why they bill it as exclusive if they are going to offer it to anyone at will.

  5. David Chatfield|

    I have flown from LAX to Heathrow 6 times in the past 9 months. On three occasions I was sent to the TSA Pre-check line and did not have to remove my shoes or computer from its case. I have the same questions about this that you do. What is the answer?

  6. mrwheat|

    Simple, you weren’t at Albany airport, you were really in Albinia airport? ;)

  7. Phyllis E.|

    OK so can you tell me why I went through a background check, interview, fingerprinting, photos etc and the privilege of paying a charge north of $100 – what do I get??

  8. JazzSinger|

    According to the TSA web site, that card is wrong. You’re not supposed to have to remove your laptop or 3-1-1 compliant bag from your carry-on.


    1. Mary|

      Actually the card is correct if you are a precheck passenger in a regulat( non precheck) lane. They do this in most airports if you are sent to or choose to use the non precheck check point.

  9. jerryp150|

    Ah.. LAX in the past I have been told that I was not prechecked one day. and a few days later told i was. I have done everything I needed to do. I have never had a problem in NY or Honolulu or Miami – airports I use a lot. But LAX I am never sure they will recognize me Pre Check… so I have to get there the same time as if I was not pre Checked. The system is a waste of time and money for the TSA.

    1. Mary|

      Randomly, you will be subjected to normal screening even if you have a known flier number. If you check in before going to the airport, your boarding pass will tell you if you have gotten precheck before you head to the airport.

  10. Pat Bunyard|

    I have enjoyed TSA Precheck for a couple years and never applied. I suspect it has been because I fly so often with United. Seems I read somewhere that TSA was being lenient in order to encourage others to apply. I have never had a problem except in the smaller airports. For some reason, smaller airports still want the liquids out and sometimes shoes off. I love the convenience so applied for GE and enter my Known Traveler # when I book a domestic flight.

  11. Brian|

    Just went through the same thing at North Bend, Oregon airport flying out from Bandon Dunes. Confusing, somewhat inconvenient, but ultimately more worry some because of history: didn’t most of the 9/11 hijackers enter the system through smaller regional airports? If the inconsistent application of TSA-Pre exists at these locations then they are a weakness in the security of the system and need to be fixed.

  12. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque)|

    TSA had managed to make a good thing controversial.http://www.boomeresque.com/tsa-precheck-yes-please/

  13. Carl Black|

    I’ll take the consistent approach at small airports (which, by design, tend to have shorter lines) over what can happen at large ones when PreCheck is closed for the day (or afternoon, or whatever). Recently at ATL, for example, I was told that I had to follow all of the same procedures as everyone else because PreCheck closes at 9 pm daily. But I at least don’t have to take off shoes or be expected to go through the AIT full-body scanner, right? Wrong. Since I don’t do those machines (my main reason for buying PreCheck), I had to wait for a pat-down. And wait. And wait. I’m glad I arrived earlier than planned! The guy who did the personal screening did apologize for the inconsistent policy, but the women on the pre-screening side were quite the opposite: how DARE I ask questions! Yet when I’d been in this same situation (same 10 pm flight) the prior month, all of the PreCheck policies applied for me in the regular lane: shoes on, laptop in bag, passed through metal detector, etc. Quick and easy.

    Two weeks ago in ATL, while waiting for my backpack to emerge from x-ray, I was told that they couldn’t scan it because it contained a laptop, like I’d broken the rules and would have to start all over. Yes, I’m in the PreCheck lane, so that doesn’t apply, I said. It doesn’t matter, I was told. Huh? At least they didn’t make me personally go back through, but they had to put my laptop in a separate bin and rerun it and the bag. This is the same bag and laptop as always. No explanation. Just inconsistency across the board.

    Don’t even get me started on the PHX terminal(s) where PreCheck closes every day at 2 pm!

  14. Robert May|

    I went to Hawaii in June and I had TSA Pre-Check on my boarding pass. I have never applied for it or had an interview with TSA. How did I get the pre-check?

    1. Dee|

      Same thing happened to me at a different airport. I got one but not my husband.

  15. TJ|

    Many small airport don’t have space/money to do a PreCheck line so they do the Card thing.
    The letting many people go thru PreCheck is go get them to see how nice it is and give our Government $100 to do it. It’s all about $
    The 2″ Swiss Army knife is because the Crybaby Stewardess’ Union whined about letting us have them but you can bring on 24″ sewing needles and sharpened dinner kniives and plastic knives. American’s are ruled by the whiny minority!

  16. Anonymous|

    I was handed a Precheck tag last winter when my husband and I were travelling. He didn’t get one and I had no clue why I got one, they just plain out handed it to me! And a few other random passengers in the same line we were. I don’t get it.

    1. Anonymous|

      Same thing has happened to my wife and me on several occasions when departing from MSY…She or I have been told “you’re Precheck” and then directed into different lines….one line no shoes off and the other line requiring disrobing and the walk-through Zapomatic whole-body microwave.. Neither of us has applied for Precheck.

  17. Ruth|

    The last time I flew, I was prechecked, and I didn’t have to take my laptop out of my bag, or any of that stuff. Then on the way home, I got stopped and they had to swab my shoes.

  18. Bob|

    Homeland “security” with its’ BS TSA is the biggest, useless waste of time and money ever conceived by man. I love all the safety all this BS brings. Twice young people got to the top of the world’s most secure building, the new world trade center. Someone, even with cops and cameras all over got to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge and put up white flags. People in boats regularly get to the restricted areas around JFK airport. The list of f ups by our moron run government is endless.

  19. Kendra Fletcher|

    Elizabeth’s comment about the Swiss Army Knife reminds me of my favorite story of TSA inconsistency: I was sternly and unkindly (“What are you, an idiot? Flip flops are SHOES”) warned to remove my flip flops by the agent in San Francisco only to have the agent in the Maui airport laugh at me and tell me that “Flip flops don’t count. Leave them on.”

  20. Bob Werner|

    Great column Johnny! First, at Christmas I qualified for pre-check by filling out a form for my daughter on the SWA website. I recieved an email from TSA saying we had qualified. When I checked in at our home airport, SDF, “PRE-CHECK” was printed on our tickets. We went through a very short marked line with no trouble. The story was different at our connecting airport, MSP, when we attempted to go through the unattended pre-check line. Before we reached the tables a BOOMING voice behind me said I was in the wrong line and I needed to enter the non pre-check line where Mr. BOOMING voice patted me down, “wanded” me, and had me go through the scanner/ imager/x-ray machine. If I were by myself it would just be an inconvenience but by then my daughter was pretty shaken up so I asked to speak with a supervisor. Bad move! He WAS the supervisor and he told me I was trying to sneak through the line!
    In any case it does appear each person or airport has its own interpretation of pre-check and it is”divested”of logic.

    1. Anonymous|

      Tsa hasn’t “wanded” anybody in YEARS. Also, why would you try to go through a line that was obviously unattended?

  21. Rand Hutchinson|

    TSA is offering up to $15,000 with the best idea that makes the lines move quicker.
    How about sticking to the process and reasoning behind offering PreCheck in the first place for people who paid for the privilege?

  22. W. Poeric|

    SWA @ BWI sends almost everyone through TSA PreChk at terminal A.

  23. Karen|

    I have never applied for TSA PreCheck, yet I seem to get it on my boarding pass quite often. Sometimes it is a blessing, sometimes not. Inconsistency is exactly right. Some airports the PreCk line closes at certain times… and lately it seems the PreCk line is longer than the regular line. No real convenience there. And if you are a female business traveler like myself, almost all quality dress shoes have a steel shank in them so must be removed anyway. Very confused about what is going on. It obviously has convinced me that applying for PreCk would certainly NOT be worth it at this point!

  24. Anthony|

    Have been through the TSA Pre-check process and have it printed on my tickets. Does not seem to stop TSA from “specially selecting” me for “extra screening” on several occasions after clearing the “x-ray” machine and baggage being screened. Have no idea why. Just kind of figured it is part of “the go along to get along process.”

  25. Maryann|

    Same thing happened to me at the Corpus Christi, TX, airport.

  26. anonymous|

    “Divest” = just another instance of gov-speak replacing standard English so petty bureaucrats can pretend to be educated …..

  27. Poley King|

    Random Precheck (Managed inclusion) is set to go away shorty. Hopefully it means things will get better but i’m not holding my breath. At some airports even though you get through pre the metal detector had a randomizer which meant you now have to go through the stupid body scanners. TSA claims they are keeping the body scanners in the precheck lane for those with implants, but we all know that’s a lie.

  28. I Hate Idiots|

    My wife and I went to SEA in July, we printed our boarding passes the night before and I noticed that mine had “PRECHECK” on it so I googled it and found out what the benefit was; no removing my shoes, jacket, laptop or 3-1-1 bag, well when when I got up to the X-RAY belt in ONT where we were leaving from the TSA agent told me just the opposite so I ended up taking everything out just as I would have without having the PRECHECK, I tried to ask the TSA guy and he just blew me off. Now on the way back we get into SEA I have PRECHECK again and the first TSA guy tells me leave everything on and in my carry on, not 50 feet later, within earshot of the first agent and this guy (with a piss poor attitude) tells me just the opposite and I was so shocked I asked him again “belt on or off” you would have thought I called his wife a whore, he copped such an attitude I couldn’t believe it, my wife saw what was happening and tried to calm me down and get me through the line.

    These idiots have way to much power, they are all idiots with a third grade education and can make your life miserable if you cross them.

  29. Rick|

    Last week I just divested my credit card to be a sucker in this apparent government scam. How did my gut feeling re: the program supposed benefits , know I should not do it ? Apparently you do not always get what you pay for. I’ ll have to ask them why they have a propencity for elucidation if I get to read one of those green cards… will be difficult to keep a straight face !

  30. adg|

    Does anyone actually believe any of the screenings makes the slightest difference, anywhere, anytime?

  31. Eric|

    don’t you all know TSA Pre-Check just means you gave away much of your personal information to the Big Brother? ^_^

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I have nothing to hide

  32. Anonymous|

    This absolutely infuriates me! I mean why did “we” (us TSA approved individuals) just go through the proper procedures and PAY THE FEE if they are going to just randomly hand out PreCheck passes to those who have not gone through the screening process. Personally, I have never experienced this at any airport I have flown in or out of or I would definitely say something to the Agent – like it or not! I guess it will take one of those non-prescreened individuals blowing up a plane before they (Albany Intl) realize what a stupid process they have!! I mean aren’t POLICY AND PROCEDURES put in place for a reason!!

  33. Marcy|

    I have been a GE member since it’s inception. The only time it seems to benefit me is upon return to the US from another country. I am “selected” not to be TSA PreCheck more times than I am “selected” to be TSA PreCheck! What really irks me in when I am traveling with a group whom don’t have GE and they ALL get PreCheck! Another example of government “milking the public”!

  34. JazzSinger|

    According to this article, it looks like the days of people getting free Pre-Check may soon be over:


  35. Anonymous|

    Divest means to rid oneself of something that one no longer wants or requires, such as a business interest or investment.

  36. Nancy Reid|

    I have enjoyed the benefit on several occasions without signing up or paying for the pre-screening. Some of us seem to get a pass for being frequent flyers. Because of this treatment, my hubs and I have decided not to pay for this privilege until we have to pay. Don’t blame us.

  37. Paul|

    More proof that airport security is more “security theater” than true security. The TSA seems to forget that having pre-screening is to allow passengers that have passed “stringent security screening” to bypass some of the standard security screening that slows down the security process and to allow anyone to randomly bypass their own security standards as a “marketing ploy” is ridiculous at best, and a major risk to security at worse. In Boston, not a minor airport by any means, I was behind a family of four, which TSA allowed two members to go to pre-check, while two had to (randomly) go through the regular line. The father, who apparently never travels was confused and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go with the rest of his family. Of course, he was in pre-check and had no idea what to do and spent the entire time complaining and holding up the pre-check line. In this case he felt he was being unfairly punished, not being given a benefit and I felt sorry for him. (If you’re going to give someone a benefit that separates them from their family, be prepared to explain why and also what that benefit is and how to take advantage of that benefit.) This btw was 2 weeks after the article about the TSA no longer randomly selecting passengers for pre-check, so apparently someone screwed up in getting that memo out. In Honolulu, again not a minor airport, there was no one checking whether anyone entering the pre-check line was qualified, so two passengers with eastern European passports were allowed through with no problem. HUH??

  38. Anonymous|

    Precheck was never meant to be an “elite” line. It was a pilot program for two years. The main goal was that it was going to be the new normal. There is another program in place along with pre check that has other tsa officers watching behaviors of those “random” people that are being let through Precheck. The inconsistency throughout airports is inconvenient but many airports are testing out different ways of implementing these programs to find the most efficient one. Also there has been a huge attrition problem within the tsa screening force. Many of them are fed up with how they are being treated within the company and on the floor. I would hate to have that job. But until there is a better solution this is what we have.

  39. Theresa C.|

    We both had Precheck from ATL to TUS but on the way back, I had Precheck and he did not. Both ways, one of our bags was checked and they broke a flashdrive we had so flying back, we left the TSA paper inside and it was still searched again.

  40. King Kano|

    I am guessing, but when I was traveling, from USA, LAX to Manila, Philippines, and my first stop was Hawaii, then Guam, I was told, gruffly, by a TSA guard, upstairs, “You…Over here…You are prescreened…..” Who, me? I asked? He said, Yes, you, over here..” and I was brought to the front of the line, which actually slowed me down…I think this may have happened to me since I had: #1. Bought my ticket early, 2 months, and used a well established debit card….ALSO #2. I asked for help, downstairs, from a helper at the airport and she was nice…She showed me how to pay for extra bag, scanned my passport, and debited my debit card…More double checking done..If your credit card can be approved, in the market, in 10 seconds, the TSA, if not too busy can check you, in 2 minutes as you go up the stairs, yes?…ALSO, I would think, with the chips inside of the passports, and credit/debit cards, and the cameras, looking at you, all was a 360 match in the 15 minutes I was in processing and I think, since my passport was older, meaning it was 6 years old, and I never lost one, or had it stolen, this helps also..REMEMBER, I am guessing, and now one thing, is the answer…I was carrying a small lunch type bag, soft cooler bag, (for my medicine) all zippers were opened, and belt off, before I got in line…I do not wait until last minute like most people do, holding u the line…I was also wearing flipflops and PAJAMA SHORTS, lol, seriously, and a Hawaiian shirt LOL( I am use to going through security, since you go through a screening at every shopping mall in the Philippines and they not mind me much, there, either, unless he, or she is new, because they not need to…It is obvious, I do not fit the profile) I think, being ready, is key, being happy, and not fitting the profile of someone who will do something stupid, because I look like a happy traveler, like Johnny does, LOL, and a scanned passport and debit card and a 2 month old ticket, helps…I am sure they can push through some people, such as me, to get the planes loaded, on non peak times..HOLIDAYS, forget it, system is over loaded…My guess is, since LAX was virtually empty, yes, hardly anyone, it is was Monday 11 am, I think it is easy to screen people, with conversations, global chips, old ticket, and being smart, ready to go, they will profile you…This is not racial profiling it is just common sense..I believe in racial profiling, but you need to check the whole profile, also…If you buy your ticket on a Friday, or at the airport, that is red flag, if you passport is new, maybe first one, and it is only 90 days old, red flag, or if you are one of those cry babies who do not like to be screened, not ready to be screened holding us all up, you will be be slowed down

  41. Moucon|

    Johnny – I fly once or twice a month these days – nowhere near my “chairman’s on 3 airlines’ level of 10 yrs ago. I often get TSA Pre if I purchase some sort of minor upgrade such as a better coach seat or priority boarding – and more than half the time it just shows up on my boarding passes. I’ve never applied for it or paid extra. Never been “pre-checked” that I know of. Usually it’ll only be for one direction of my trip- seldom both. I’ve asked TSA agent s several times and have never had an acceptable answer. Point being can any terrorist buy a $6 exit row seat and suddenly be TSA-pre? That is totally bogus.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Good question. Are you over 65? From personal experience I see a lot of people over 65 getting it.

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