Sunday, June 16

Where to Sign Up for TSA Precheck

I’ve had TSA Precheck for years, with no regrets. The fee works out to just $15 annually, and every time I’ve taken a trip by air and faced shorter lines at security, I’ve been glad I signed up. The only real hassle was that I had to take several hours out of my day to drive to the airport for an in-person interview. But it turns out this isn’t a necessary part of the process: You can actually enroll in Precheck at a variety of non-airport locations—including some Staples stores.

TSA Precheck is the simplest and cheapest of the airport security programs, but if you’d like to decide for yourself, we have a comparison here. If you travel internationally often, you may want Global Entry instead, which only costs a little bit more and includes Precheck privileges.

There’s another popular program called CLEAR, but it’s more expensive, has had longer lines lately, and doesn’t even get you into the Precheck lane unless you also pay for Precheck. Here’s the difference:

  • Without any security programs, you wait in a (sometimes long) line, then go through a security lane where you’ll need to take off your shoes and jacket, and pull out your liquids baggie and your laptop.
  • With CLEAR, you use biometric ID kiosks and then are brought to the head of the line to go through the same security lane as above. Although CLEAR lets you skip the waiting in the TSA line, it may have its own line.
  • With TSA Precheck, you stand in a (usually shorter) line and then you get to go through a streamlined security process. You can keep your shoes and jacket on, and keep your laptop and liquids in your bag.
  • If you have both CLEAR and Precheck, you do the biometric ID kiosk, then are brought to the front of the Precheck line to go through the streamlined screening. (You have to pay for both subscriptions.)

While the shorter line at Precheck is a plus, it’s the streamlined screening that really speeds you up when it’s time to go through security—you plop your bag on the conveyor belt, step through the scanner, and then you grab your bag and you’re on your way. I’ve never found the lines to be long enough that using a CLEAR kiosk would have made a difference, but this can vary from airport to airport.

Companies like IDEMIA and TELOS run TSA Precheck enrollment centers, and many of them are in places more convenient than airports. TSA has a search tool here where you can enter your zip code and find TSA enrollment centers near you.

Some of the IDEMIA locations are inside Staples stores, and you can search here to find a Staples that offers TSA Precheck enrollment. These locations will still show up on the TSA’s main search, though, so I’d recommend just using the TSA site. (Sadly, you can’t sign up at every Staples, so make sure to check they have an enrollment center before you go.)

To apply for Precheck, you fill out a form online, and then book an appointment at one of those enrollment centers—whether at an airport, Staples, or a standalone location. Expect to be fingerprinted and have your picture taken, and make sure that you fill out the form such that your name appears the same way it does on the ID you’ll use when flying. (That’s a heads up for those of you who are inconsistent about whether you fill out a middle name or just the initial.) Fortunately, when it comes time to renew five years from now, you can do that entirely online.

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