There’s a new way to get through TSA screening faster. But do you need it?

Dec 15, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you’ve been to an airport lately, you know security checkpoints are nearly as busy as they were before the pandemic. With holiday travel around the corner and vaccination rates rising, more people are taking to the skies.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

However, more people in the air also means more people on the ground — in the security screening line. There are several ways to get through airline security screening or customs and immigration faster, from TSA PreCheck to Global Entry to Clear to Mobile Passport. Some of these options, like PreCheck and Global Entry, come at a cost (but several credit cards cover the price), while others, like Mobile Passport, are free.

Now, several airports are piloting programs to roll out a “reservation system,” where travelers can reserve their spot in the security screening line hours or days before even arriving at the airport, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

It’s an interesting idea, but do you actually need it with all of the other programs out there? Here’s what you need to know before you head off to the airport.

Which airports use reservation systems for security screening?

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Several major U.S. international airports have rolled out reservation systems in recent months. There are slight differences with each program, but all have an assigned checkpoint for travelers using the reservation system. However, it’s important to note if you’re also a member of a program like TSA PreCheck, you can’t use those benefits in the dedicated reservations lane.

Here are the airports with security screening reservation systems.

  • Newark (EWR): Passengers traveling from Terminal A at EWR can use the “VirtuaLine,” a program to reserve a 30-minute slot at the security checkpoint. You can make a reservation for the TSA security screening line up to 72 hours before arriving at the airport. Reservations and walk-in appointments are available for departing and general screening passengers daily from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can fill out an online registration form, which asks you to choose your airline, destination and flight number, while noting your name, party size and contact information. You can fill out the form starting 72 hours before your flight.
  • Los Angeles (LAX): Travelers flying out of terminals 7 and 8 at LAX can reserve a time at the TSA screening area through the “LAX Fast Lane” pilot. You can either make a reservation or walk-in appointment from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the TSA checkpoint for Terminal 7. You can sign up for a slot up to three days before your flight. The dedicated screening line is on the east end of the checkpoint at Terminal 7.
  • Seattle (SEA): Seattle Airport’s reservations program is called “SEA Spot Saver.” Travelers can reserve a slot up to 72 hours before their flight or when they arrive at the airport. When registering, you’ll fill out information like the airline you’re flying, the flight number and where you’re headed as well as your name, number of people in your party and contact information.
  • Dallas (DFW): Dallas-Fort Worth Airport launched the “DFW Security Fast Pass” pilot program that allows customers to make a reservation (up to seven days before travel) to skip the general screening line at the Terminal D checkpoint D18. Travelers using the system will be moved to the front of the line for screening by an escort. DFW’s program also includes a little perk for travelers: a $5 credit toward food and retail at the airport. It’s a nice gesture but likely won’t go far, given how expensive airport food can be.
  • LaGuardia (LGA): Travelers flying out of the swanky new Terminal B can now skip the security line — for a $15 fee. The “B-Fast” program takes you directly to the TSA agent for an ID check.

Is it really necessary?

Like most things with travel, whether you choose to use a service (or not) is a personal choice. There are no real downsides to using a reservation system. Still, it’s really just another line in an airport ecosystem inundated with separate lines for everyone from elite status holders to standard travelers without PreCheck.

However, these reservation systems offer one perk that many other similar programs don’t: They’re free. This could be a big plus as programs like PreCheck and Clear can be pricey if you’re traveling on a budget or with a large group, like a family.

How to get through security screening or immigration faster

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you want to skip these programs but still avoid long waits in the security line, there are several ways to breeze through the airport with little hassle.

The most popular program is TSA PreCheck, which allows travelers to keep their shoes on and their laptops in their bags and gives them a dedicated screening line. The fee to sign up for the program is $85 (it’s $70 if you’re renewing your existing membership online), and membership is good for five years. Global Entry — which includes PreCheck — is included with a handful of premium credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Clear is another program popular with frequent flyers. The expedited security program is available at dozens of airports and in stadiums and other mass venues. Travelers have their own separate lane to utilize biometric authentication, like a fingerprint or iris scan, at a kiosk before being escorted to security screening by a Clear staffer. Clear normally costs $189 — not a small fee — but, like PreCheck, several credit cards offer statement credits to offset the expense.

The last option is the best if you’re on a budget. As I’ve written before, the Mobile Passport Control app generates a digital version of the required customs form instead of filling it out by hand. Then, a CBP officer scans the QR code on your Mobile Passport digital receipt. It’s a lot less-known than the highly popular Global Entry, but it can potentially save you hours in line.

Just make sure you don’t try to use Global Entry and Mobile Passport; the latter effectively “cancels” the former if you try to use both programs during a single trip.

Bottom line

These new reservation programs don’t move the needle much between all of the other programs that offer expedited screening. But they also don’t hurt to use, particularly if you’re a nervous traveler or if you want to guarantee a spot in line ahead of busy travel days, like Christmas Eve.

It wouldn’t hurt to make a reservation, especially given the generous sign-up period — in some cases up to seven days before your flight — if you’re traveling in a large group and want to ensure your spot in line. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go out of my way to use these programs as Clear and PreCheck are more than suitable.

Featured photo by George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.