Airport Security: How to Skip the Line

May 9, 2016

Whenever I’m at the airport, I see the long security line snake around DIA. It makes me start to wonder about the various “special lines” that require “pre-clearing” in exchange for very short wait times - but then I forget to research those opportunities. If you’ve ever seen those signs and wondered how they work, you’re not alone. Here are some ways you can save time next time you need to catch a flight.

Global Entry

If you travel internationally on a regular basis, this program is for you. The program is offered through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, allowing qualifying travelers to bypass the lines at customs upon entering the United States. Eligibility requirements for Global Entry can be found here. Once you enroll in Global Entry, you can scan your passport and fingerprints at Global Entry terminals, available at most major U.S. airports, and bypass filling out forms and standing in line. To enroll in Global Entry, you must complete an application and submit a $100 fee. The fee is payable once every five years, and  if you’re bringing any children, you’ll have to pay for them as well. Upon conditional approval of the application, you will schedule an in-person interview.  The Colorado interview location is at Denver International Airport.  Global Entry requires you pass a background check.

A major added benefit of Global Entry is TSA Pre-Check eligibility, which is included with your $100 fee for the program. If you are considering TSA Pre-Check (which is $85 for five years) but also travel internationally, you may want to consider enrolling in Global Entry at an additional cost of only $15.

TSA Pre-Check

Not all airlines participate in this program, but most major carriers such as United, Southwest, and Delta do participate. TSA Pre-Check speeds you through security screening with separate screening lanes. The expedited screening allows travelers to keep their shoes on, and do not require removal of electronics such as laptops, or the 3-1-1 liquids from your carry-on items. Most major U.S. airports participate in TSA Pre-Check. The fee is $85 (valid for five years).

To apply, complete an application and schedule an in-person appointment. The program is available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Note: if you are a U.S. active duty military, National Guard and reserve member, you are already eligible for expedited screening and do not need to enroll in TSA Pre-Check.

Once approved for TSA Pre-Check, you will receive a known traveler number (KTN) which you must remember to enter when making any flight reservations. The KTN number will be printed on your board pass. You cannot take advantage of TSA Pre-Check unless the KTN number is on your boarding pass. Children under 12 years old traveling with you can go through the TSA Pre-Check lanes without separate enrollment in TSA Pre-Check. Children age 13 and over must be separately enrolled in the program to use the expedited lanes.

CLEAR

This program allows you to skip the security line entirely by going into a separate CLEAR line that takes you up to the screening checkpoint. CLEAR does not act to expedite the security screening process. This privately run program is currently available in limited locations around the country. States with CLEAR locations include California (though not LAX), Nevada (Las Vegas), Colorado (DIA), Texas, Florida, Maryland (Baltimore/Washington), and Westchester County, NY. To get through the CLEAR lane you have to be physically scanned using either your iris scan or a thumbprint.

The program costs $179/year and children under 18 years old are free. Family members can be added for $50/year. You can use CLEAR regardless of the airline you’re flying. To register for CLEAR you must be at least 18 years old and a US citizen or permanent resident with state or federal-issued identification available.

What do you think about these programs? Would you pay a little extra to skip the security line at DIA?