In 1999, Disneyland tested a revolutionary project called Fastpass. This program allowed people to reserve a space in line at popular rides and attractions instead of waiting in line all day. They were given a print out that gave them a predetermined time to come back and receive expedited access to the rides. Needless to say, this was a big deal for me as a teenager with a Disney Season Pass.
Cue to 2013 where I'm now significantly older yet still giddy about "cutting the line". Only this time, it's at airport security lines instead of at the magic kingdom. TSA Pre is the Disneyland Fastpass of traveling. After going through their background check, eligible participants are directed to a dedicated security line. In that line you don't have to remove your shoes or belt and you can leave laptops inside your bag. Also, there's no nude-o-scope backscatter X-ray machine to go through and instead, you're directed to a normal metal detector. Finally and best of all, the TSA Pre lines are almost always significantly shorter than the normal and even elite security lines. What once was a guaranteed 15-30 minute process now takes me five minutes.
There are a couple of ways to sign up for TSA Pre:
1. Sign up for Global Entry: The $100 fee for Global Entry (another amazing innovation) includes TSA Pre. This is how I first signed up for the program.
2. Sign up through your airline: Certain airlines like American and United will offer their elite members applications.
3. Sign up directly through TSA: Although the application center is only open in Indianapolis right now, I'm sure they will ramp up quickly to most major cities in the US.
TSA Pre was once limited to only a few carriers at select airports, but is currently present at over 100 airports throughout the US. I fly 30-40 segments a year out of LAX and I estimate I save at least ten hours a year of security lines through the program. With an initial fee of $100 for five years of Global Entry and TSA Pre, that's a cost/benefit no-brainer for me. Even if you only fly two to three times a year domestically, I still think that the program pays for itself with the extreme reduction in travel-related headaches. Plus, like me, you can be the traveler with the smug look on your face as you clear security in seconds and people wonder, "Whoa, who is s/he?".