What to do if a boarding pass isn’t marked TSA PreCheck

Nov 24, 2019

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We’ve all griped about how the TSA PreCheck lines just keep getting longer and longer. And we’ve explored programs like CLEAR to figure out accelerated ways of getting through security at the same expedited pace as before. (Mobile Passport is a good thing to keep in mind for clearing customs on the other end, too.)

Sometimes going through the common-herd checkpoints can’t be helped. Other times… it can, and should be avoided. Having PreCheck is infinitely better than not, as anyone who’s passed through Newark after PreCheck lanes have been closed down for the night can attest.

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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. Additionally, the terms of service surrounding TSA PreCheck state that, despite holding Trusted Traveler status, the privilege of accelerated security pass through is not guaranteed.

A few months ago, TPG reporter Zach Wichter (a TSA PreCheck superfan) was on his way to Chicago from New York when he realized the familiar green icon wasn’t on his mobile boarding pass. Wichter feels strongly that no frequent traveler should ever have to take their shoes off in an airport, and was willing to do whatever it took to get the check mark added back, even if it meant standing in extra lines that ultimately took longer than the standard security lane would have.

It turned out he was denied PreCheck because his ticket was mistakenly booked for “Zach Wichter” instead of “Zachary,” which appears on his ID and in his trusted traveler profile. In order to get the perk restored, the airline had to cancel and rebook his ticket before he proceeded through security.

Fortunately, a friendly JetBlue customer service agent was able to help him out, and make the ticket change for free. But the whole ordeal underscored that even for PreCheck regulars, small glitches can seriously impede the ability to take advantage of the benefit.

Other TPG readers have had similar issues. More from them below.

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.

Just in case you’re a little rusty on where to go on the airline’s website, TPG Editor-at-Large Nick Ewen recently published a handy guide on how to quickly add your KTN on any US airline.

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 a five-year expiration date. With all the other deadlines, dates and reminders we 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 reapply 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 Wichter 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 shake 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 rechecking 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. 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.

Additional reporting by Zach Wichter. 

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