Travelers Becoming Increasingly Frustrated With TSA PreCheck As Lines Grow Longer

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Longer TSA PreCheck lines at airport security checkpoints are leaving paying members of the program increasingly frustrated as often times the processing for the Trusted Travelers is anything but efficient.

The TSA has gotten plenty of bad press in recent months as the agency tries to cope with passenger numbers and balance security with efficiency, barely achieving any of the two.

TSA PreCheck (access the official website here) is a vetting mechanism that allows enrolled individuals to be designated Trusted Travelers if they pass a background check, brief interview and last but not least pay a $85 fee for the enrollment which is then valid for five years.

Per the advertisement that TSA run, the PreCheck program features certain key benefits:

Especially the promised wait time as part of expedient processing (the advert promises to wait 5 minutes or less) is a huge pro argument for many to go through the effort and pay the relatively low fee of $17 per year, $85 for all 5 years of the membership.

But what are the realities? PreCheck lines have been growing and growing with TSA also selecting random travelers for the expedited service who then don’t know how the process actually works.

And paying, vetted members are getting frustrated as the key benefit is shrinking.

A recent USA Today article (see here) shines another unfavorable light on the program this week.

Increasingly, travelers … who paid for their membership and submitted to a background check are finding that the fast lanes are actually slower than the non-PreCheck lines. And they’re wondering why they even bothered. …

TSA insists experiences like Edmonds’ and Lundberg’s are the exception rather than the rule. Virtually all passengers wait less than 30 minutes in standard checkpoint lines, and 99.6% of TSA PreCheck members waited less than 10 minutes in line, according to the agency. In other words, the fast lane is almost always faster.

Except when it isn’t. I had heard of this checkpoint inversion — slow is fast, fast is slow — but didn’t believe it until I arrived for a recent flight in Anchorage. The regular line had four or five passengers, while the PreCheck line was at least 20 passengers deep.

In case you’re wondering, you want to be in that PreCheck line. There are no shoes to remove, no laptops to take out of the bag and best of all, no scanner to radiate your body. It’s just like getting screened, pre-9/11. But some travelers would gladly give up those conveniences if they could get through the line faster. Hence their frustration. …

“Because of randomness in when passengers arrive to the airport, this setup will have imbalances at times,” explains Edieal Pinker, an expert on queuing who teaches at the Yale School of Management. “You can’t give them another one of the lanes because then the non-PreCheck becomes very under-served. As a result, PreCheck could have more delays than non-PreCheck.” …

While traveling in the U.S. lat September I’ve seen some pretty long PreCheck lines which I utilize as part of the Global Entry membership. Friends who travel with PreCheck from airports such as Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco and Washington Dulles reported even worse on their social media.

The promised 5 minutes wait time in some times were more like 30-45 minutes (especially in Atlanta) while at LAX I also waited 25 minutes for my American Airlines departure.

Is it worth paying for PreCheck under these conditions?

$85 for five years isn’t a lot of money and despite it being occasionally frustrating, $17 per year is still a very decent return of investment if you travel frequently. There are also many ways to get this fee waived for example by having a premium credit card that covers the enrollment of Global Entry or PreCheck. Orbitz Platinum Members also receive a promotion code for complimentary TSA PreCheck.

Conclusion

It’s annoying that the program has gotten out of control while it worked well in the beginning. The real problem is selecting people randomly to move into the PreCheck group who haven’t gotten any instructions how to use the line as it’s a huge difference to the regular screening.

Alternatively passengers could enroll into the CLEAR Program to enjoy a better security checkpoint experience. However this is $179 per year and therefore a whole different price point compared to the government run TSA PreCheck option and it’s not available at all airport locations.

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