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

Dec 15, 2021

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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.

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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.

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