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We’ve all griped about how the TSA PreCheck line just keep getting longer and longer. And we’ve explored programs like CLEAR and Mobile Passport to figure out accelerated ways of getting through security at the same expedited pace as before.
But having PreCheck is still infinitely better than not, as anyone who’s passed through Newark after PreCheck lanes have been closed down for the night can attest. Sometimes going through the common-herd checkpoints can’t be helped. Other times… it can, and should be avoided. Here’s what to know about PreCheck, a few reasons why you might not have PreCheck lane access designated on your boarding pass and what to do about it.
TSA PreCheck is not a guaranteed service perk
Every so often, glitches happen and airlines make mistakes. In other cases, the terms of service surrounding TSA PreCheck state that, despite holding Trusted Traveler status, the privilege of accelerated security passthrough is not guaranteed. TPG Lounge readers recently shared their experiences with missing PreCheck designations, and when it most often tends to happen. Lounge member Wilson Zheng noticed it happening whenever he books travel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, while others said that they’ve only lost out on PreCheck when something went wrong during the booking process.
When your frequent flyer account doesn’t list your Known Traveler Number
Once you are approved for TSA PreCheck, you’re issued a Known Traveler Number (KTN), which designates you as a Trusted Traveler. This ID is your ticket to the PreCheck lane – but only if airlines know that you have it.
To that end, it’s always worth double-checking your frequent flyer airline profiles to ensure that your KTN is populated into the correct field in your account, especially if you’re flying with a carrier you don’t often frequent. It’s an easy oversight, and the worst time to find out that your boarding pass doesn’t include PreCheck access is when you’re about to enter the security lane during rush hour.
When the name on your ID doesn’t match your boarding pass
“Check the spelling,” Lounge member David Keith told TPG Lounge members. “Even a misplaced period or a missing middle name” can be enough for security to note the discrepancy and flag your boarding pass for closer scrutiny. Other typographical discrepancies can become an issue as well. “Be mindful of hyphenated surnames too,” said Lounge member Anne Watal. “When I did my Global Entry interview, the agent told me not to put the hyphen in my last name (even though my license and passport have the hyphen).”
When your TSA PreCheck access has expired
Unfortunately, the privilege of passing through enhanced security lines is one that comes with an expiration date – of five years, to be exact. With all the other deadlines, dates and reminders we all juggle on a daily basis, it can be easy to forget which metaphorical string around your finger is attached to that all-important expiration date. But the TSA doesn’t care about everything else in your appointment book: If your access is expired, no amount of begging, pleading or arguing will get you into that PreCheck line. Fortunately, you can re-apply for Global Entry renewal, which comes with TSA PreCheck, beginning one year from the expiration date. So plan ahead, put the expiration date on your calendar with a reminder to renew… and ideally, sign up for your renewal appointment well before your next trip.
When you get the dreaded SSSS
This unfortunate security designation is enough to make anyone hiss like a snake in frustration. SSSS, short for Secondary Security Screening Selection, is an arbitrary airport security measure that selects certain travelers for additional inspection. How or why this designation appears is a mystery for the most part, although The Points Guy struggled with multiple SSSS designations following a 2015 trip to Turkey, while Zach found himself marked SSSSpecial as well late last year for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, if you also have been sssspecially sssselected for this “privilege,” you will only be able to check in for your flight at the airline counter. You almost certainly will not be able to go through the PreCheck line either, as you will receive a thorough inspection from TSA agents.
If this dreaded circumstance befalls you, there’s no easy way out of SSSS hell. (Read here to see what TPG did in 2015 to sssshake the designation).
What to do?
There are a number of ways to handle a missing PreCheck designation on short notice. If you find out about the error before you arrive at the airport, you can call your airline and give them your KTN over the phone. Several Lounge members also reported successfully fixing the error on their own by adding their KTN into their frequent flyer profile, then re-checking in via the airline website or mobile app.
Other travelers suggest going straight to social media. “Contact TSA via Twitter and they will fix it for you in 5-10 minutes,” said TPG Lounge member Mark Forquer. “[I’ve] done this twice, [and] they were actually very helpful.”
If you don’t find out about the missing PreCheck designation until you’re at the airport, take your boarding pass back to the airline check-in counter and ask them to add your KTN to your itinerary – even if you think, “By this point, it’s not worth the trouble.” If you’re already in a time crunch, the difference in time saved going through the PreCheck line could make or break your chances of getting onto your plane. Even if it seems like a hassle, it may be worthwhile to drop out of the slow lane and hoof it back to the airline desk.
You’ll always have to weigh the pros and cons of getting in and out of line for the ticket counter on a case-by-case basis, but my personal experience has always been in favor of acquiring PreCheck access. If nothing else, just remember that PreCheck passengers typically pass through security more quickly, spending an average of 10 minutes or less in line while the standard lanes tend to require 30 minutes, on average.
Know before you go.
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