Thank you for subscribing!
Got it! Thank you!

TSA PreCheck Not So Easy if You Enroll Yourself

Recruitment ad from the TSA website

In the first phase of the TSA's PreCheck program, the airlines invited their elite members to enroll. That process worked well, since the airlines mostly facilitated the integration of passengers' membership numbers into their reservations, and the TSA requires number and ticket to me married before it allows passengers to use the service.

But if you are one of the first people to sign up for TSA PreCheck on your own initiative, now that the government is allowing open enrollment, you won't find the system running smoothly quite yet.

An example of how airlines are struggling to train staff and create systems to enable PreCheck use: I gained membership to Global Entry a few months ago. That program is designed to speed entry from abroad, but it also includes TSA PreCheck as part of the package. Yet on two flights I took on JetBlue over the holidays, both the airline and JFK airport's staff were unable to get me into the speedier lane.

On my first leg, from JetBlue's own terminal at JFK, I encountered a string of staff failures. When I checked in, the ticket clerk didn't know if TSA PreCheck was operating, even though the security area was only yards away from her. Then when I found PreCheck was indeed in operation, the government agent wouldn't let me into the lane—despite the fact I was carrying my government-issued Global Entry photo ID proving my membership—because JetBlue hadn't printed my PASSID number on the ticket. I could have waited in a JetBlue's line a second time, but that would have defeated the purpose of speeding through the quicker TSA lane.

The next few days, I spent at least an hour trying to get the airline to add my PASSID for my return trip. I approached an info desk by the gate at JFK. There was no way to enter it on the JetBlue website. Clearly the airline's system wasn't ready to manage TSA PreCheck reservations; I had no choice but to call. 

So I called, and that agent had to put me on hold for 10 minutes to figure out what to do. When I called back to check, the number still wasn't in my passenger profile, and the second agent did the same thing. By my third call to check on his success, the number still wasn't there. But that was okay, the third agent told me, because TSA PreCheck wasn't available at the airport I was returning from anyway—the first person out of three to tell me that entering my ID would be fruitless. What's more, she said, for now I'd have to telephone each and every time I have a new reservation because there's no other way to make sure my TSA PreCheck number sticks. Of course, doing that for every flight will erase whatever time savings PreCheck is supposed to give you.

I say this not to complain—we all have a frustrating airline story—but to alert you that even if the government has declared TSA PreCheck open for business and it is actively promoting it, some of the airlines are still playing catch-up in staff training and reservations infrastructure.

JetBlue tweeted me to apologize and admit it's working out the kinks: "it's pretty new and takes some time."

For that reason, travelers can probably afford to drag their feet for a few months before they register while the airlines get their systems up to speed.