One of the worst caveats to traveling is airport security.
When TSA and security screenings are mentioned, the first thing most of us think about is the line stretching to infinity. Or, at least, that’s what it seems like.
However, going through airport security doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a lot of options that can make your experience much faster and simpler.
In this guide to airport security options, we’ll take a look at the most popular programs frequent travelers use to speed through security (and how they compare), answer frequent questions, and help you make the right decision for your needs.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about…
1) TSA PreCheck (AKA: TSA Fast Pass)
Number one on our list of airport security options is definitely the TSA PreCheck. It works on the basis of verified identity - by going through the background check and verifying your identity with TSA PreCheck, you’ll be assigned a Known Traveler number. This gives you the right to join a special TSA Pre security line at the airport, and go through screening without removing:
- Your 3-1-1 liquids
- Laptops and electronic devices
It’s a significant time-saver, especially if you’re traveling with a lot of carry-on luggage. However, having TSA Pre doesn’t mean you’ll be excused from screening or that the process will be expedited. Even the TSA lines get crowded. Keep in mind that TSA PreCheck is valid only for domestic flights as no airports or airlines outside of the United States offer it.
Q: How long does it take to get approval for TSA PreCheck?
A: In most cases, around 4 weeks.
Q: How long is TSA Pre good for?
A: TSA PreCheck lasts 5 years, after which you can apply to renew it.
Q: How much does TSA PreCheck cost?
A: It costs $85 for the 5 years. However, you may have TSA Pre benefits included in your credit card program, or your airline loyalty program.
Q: What is a TSA redress number?
A: A redress number is a number similar to Known Traveler, and it serves to verify your identity. However, it’s not under the TSA’s jurisdiction, but the DHS’. It’s used for cases of mistaken identity. For example, if you often have to pass additional security screening at the airport, or if you’ve had identity-related concerns with the airport officials, you may need a redress number to “set the record straight.”
2) Global Entry
Global Entry is another airport security option that’s essentially a trusted traveler program. It works similarly to the TSA PreCheck, as it verifies your identity. However, it doesn’t make airport security screening easier, but helps with going through customs.
You’ll be able to get Global Entry if you’re a low-risk traveler, and you’ll go through a rigorous background check and interview with the officials before your application is approved. As a member of the Global Entry program, you’ll enter the US through automatic kiosks available at select airports. You’ll scan your fingerprints, and your passport or your permanent residence card, fill out a customs declaration, and you’ll be good to go.
Keep in mind that even though Global Entry is used to gain entry into the US, you can find it at the following foreign airports as well:
- Abu Dhabi International Airport
- Aruba – Queen Beatrix International Airport
- Bermuda International Airport
- Calgary International Airport
- Dublin Airport
- Edmonton International Airport
- Grand Bahamas International Airport
- Guam International Airport
- Halifax Stanfield International Airport
- Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
- Nassau – Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport
- Ontario International Airport
- Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport
- Saipan International Airport
- San Jose International Airport
- San Juan-Luis Munoz Marin International Airport
- Shannon Airport
- Toronto Pearson International Airport
- Vancouver International Airport
- Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport
If you often take international flights, Global Entry is a good choice since you won’t have to wait in long lines waiting to be scanned with the rest of the passengers.
Q: How long does it take to get Global Entry?
A: Between 4 and 6 weeks.
Q: How long is Global Entry good for?
A: Global Entry is valid for five years, after which you can renew it.
Q: How much does Global Entry cost?
A: It costs $100 for a five-year membership.
Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck
The most important thing to understand is that Global Entry and the TSA PreCheck do not address the same issue.
Global Entry is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and it serves to expedite the process of entering the country, whereas PreCheck is Transportation Security Administration’s security screening program.
If you usually travel within the country, you don’t need Global Entry – you can just get TSA PreCheck. If you travel internationally, Global Entry is the best choice.
However, if you opt for Global Entry, you’ll get the TSA PreCheck benefits at no extra cost to you. You’ll be automatically enrolled into the program, and you can use the Known Traveler number you get with Global Entry for TSA Pre, as well.
3) CLEAR Airport Security
If you’re wondering how to go through airport security as fast as you can, then CLEAR’s the right solution for you.
It’s not just a known traveler program. It’s a known traveler program that actually lets you jump the security screening line.
So, how does CLEAR work?
After you sign up online, you should visit a CLEAR pod at an airport or a stadium and bring your ID.
While you’re there, CLEAR will scan your fingerprints and your irises, as those are the best biometrical identifiers. You’ll then be entered into a database of known travelers, and your biometrics will be turned into a code used for verification every time you enter the airport. When you go on your next flight, you’ll first turn to a CLEAR pod in your airport, where you’ll scan your fingerprints and irises. And then the real fun begins, as you’ll be greeted by a CLEAR representative who’ll help you cut in the security screening line.
Of course, you’ll go through the security screening, but you’ll be the next in line since your identity has already been verified. CLEAR is certified and fully authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the airport security process.
However, keep in mind that CLEAR currently have pods in only 35+ locations, including stadiums.
Q: How long does it take to get CLEAR?
A: 15 seconds – 1 minute.
Q: How long is CLEAR good for?
A:CLEAR is valid as long as you pay the membership.
Q: How much does CLEAR cost?
A: $15/month (if billed annually).
CLEAR vs TSA PreCheck
When it comes to airport security screening options, CLEAR and TSA Pre are the ones dealing with the actual screening itself.
With CLEAR, you’ll be directed to a separate security line that’s neither regular TSA, nor the TSA Pre line. The wait time is minimal to non-existent, while the TSA Pre line has occasional congestion issues. After passing through the CLEAR lane, you’ll go through physical screening. This is done by the TSA, as CLEAR doesn’t have the authority to perform actual screening.
If you don’t have TSA Pre, you’ll arrive to the regular physical screening line, and follow the standard procedure. If you have TSA Pre, you’ll be directed to their line, where you won’t have to remove liquids, shoes, jackets, belts, and electronic devices.
There’s really no competition between these two trusted traveler programs, since they address similar – but ultimately different - stages of your security screening. That’s why you can keep using TSA Pre with CLEAR, and expedite your airport security even more.
CLEAR vs Global Entry
The situation here is similar to the one with TSA PreCheck.
CLEAR makes your identity verification process easier and faster, allowing you to skip the identity check line. They also put you forward in the physical security screening line, so you’re almost guaranteed to blast through security check in under 10 minutes.
Global Entry, on the other hand, lets you enter the US as a trusted traveler without additional verification by the CBP officials. All the verification and customs declarations you’ll have to do will be done through kiosk, so you can streamline the process of gaining entry to the US.
Despite different areas of focus, both CLEAR and Global Entry want to help you skip the lines and be on your way. That’s exactly why you can use them together. CLEAR will help you get through airport security screening, and Global Entry will help you enter the country without waiting in line for hours.
How do TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR compare?
These three trusted traveler programs make for a great combo to have in your traveling arsenal. You’ll be breezing through security, identity verification, and customs with the benefits they give you.
However, keep in mind that they’re not competing against each other, but complementing. You can absolutely use all three at the same time, but remember that TSA Pre comes included in Global Entry so there’s no use to get the PreCheck separately.
If you’re a domestic traveler, you can opt for TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. They work perfectly in conjunction to ensure you’ll reach your destination without a ridiculous wait time. If you frequently travel internationally, it’s good to have Global Entry and CLEAR (since TSA Pre comes included with GE).
Q: How much do Global Entry and CLEAR cost?
A: Global Entry is $100 for a 5-year membership, while CLEAR is $15 per month.
On a yearly basis, Global Entry will set you back for $20, while CLEAR has a significantly larger sum of $180/year.Your total cost would be $200 per year.
Q: How much do TSA PreCheck and CLEAR cost?
A: TSA PreCheck is $85 for a 5-year membership, similarly to GE, and CLEAR is still $180/year. With both, you can expect to pay $197/year.
Q: CLEAR is expensive. Should I still get it?
A: That depends on your needs as a passenger. Business travelers get the most benefit out of CLEAR, so if you’re traveling often enough to make up for the cost of CLEAR, you’ll find it’s a good investment.
5) Airline Elite Status / First Class Airport Security Options
Another way to go through airport security faster is either flying in first class or having an airline elite status.
While necessary tiers for getting the elite status may vary, airlines usually let mid-tier passengers take the priority security lines. Since the priority security lines are usually reserved for first class passengers, having an airline elite status will help you get the VIP treatment you need to go through security quickly and comfortably.
If you don’t have an elite status already, you can always sign up for the program. The process is pretty straightforward, and airline status perks may already be included with your credit card. Some credit card companies even reward spending in cooperation with airlines, making it easier to reach the elite status needed to expedite airport security. For example, American Express and Delta Platinum frequently award Medallion Qualification Miles after spending a certain amount on your credit card. Most other domestic and international airlines have similar programs so even if you’re not such a frequent flyer there’s no reason not to enjoy faster security screening when you do fly.
Airport security is inevitable…
…but there’s no reason you can’t pass it in record time.
With these three options, you don’t have to waste time waiting. Instead, become a known traveler and turn the security time into fun time.