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Understanding the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) Trusted Traveler Programs

If you are confused about the Department of Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler Programs (TTPs), you're in good company! I recently enrolled in the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Pre√ program. Coming back from The Bahamas last week and going through the airport in Atlanta, I thought that was all I needed to whisk through those agonizing security checkpoint lines without taking off my shoes, coat or belt and removing my laptop from my carry-on. But I was wrong.

TSA Pre√ is a program that provides travelers with expedited screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints when traveling on a participating airline. Eligible travelers for TSA Pre√ expedited screening include members of a DHS trusted traveler program, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, select government employees and frequent fliers. What do they mean by 'expedited screening'? Well, in most airports, there's a separate, designated (shorter) line for TSA Pre√ and other TTPs (more below). The benefits are that you don't need to remove:

  • Shoes

  • 3-1-1 liquids bag from carry-on

  • Laptop from carry-on

  • Light outerwear/jacket

  • Belt

Actually, there are a number of program options available to travelers. One of the travel industry organizations that I belong to had a dinner meeting at Albany International Airport (NY) this week, and the speaker, Kelly Schoonmaker, was the airport's new TSA Screening Supervisor. Who knew that there are actually four (4) different TTPs? Kelly explained their differences, which are clearly outlined and easily understood in the chart she provided. Click here for your personal copy (you're welcome).

Had I known that Global Entry was only $15 (amortized over five years) more than the TSA Pre in which I am enrolled, or that NEXUS offers all the benefits of TSA Pre√ AND Global Entry for only a $50 fee for a membership good for five years, I certainly would have (and probably still will) join NEXUS.

If you travel frequently by air within the U.S. or abroad, you really should apply to one of these programs. Here are links for more detailed information about each program so you can choose the one that's best for you:

And while we're at it, a few travel tips from us and our friends at the TSA for the general public who are not enrolled in any of the TSA TTPs to make going through security checkpoints as painless and hassle-free as humanly possible:

  • "When in doubt, leave it out." That goes for firearms and knives (really?), scissors, metal nail files, knitting needles and - from my personal experience - wine openers.

  • If you entertain a lot (like I do) while away from home, bringing hard cheeses (e.g. Swiss, Gouda, Parmigano-Reggiano, Cheddar, Asiago and my favorite, Manchego) with you through security is fine. No hummus or dips. They will be taken away from you.

  • Arrive at the airport early. Travelers are encouraged to get there two hours before scheduled departure time. In some overseas airports - such as The Bahamas (Nassau and Freeport, not the Out Islands) - U.S. citizens can clear customs in their foreign departure airport prior to their flight back to the U.S.A.. In these cases, allow for even more time - as much as three hours prior to takeoff.

  • Wear slip on shoes or sandals. In the event you need to remove them going through security, it's easy off, easy on without the need to sit down or hold up the people behind you in line.

  • Consolidate 3.4 ounce (maximum allowance) or less liquid bottles into one quart-size transparent zip-top plastic bag and remove the bag from your carry on when placing your items on the belt. One plastic bag is allowed per person.

  • Be prepared to remove your laptop from your carry-on.

  • If traveling with pets, remove them from their carrying cases and place the case through the x-ray machine. A leash will help maintain control of your pet while traveling. Remember to remove the leash when carrying your pet through the metal detector.

Travel is wonderful but it can be stressful, and any means by which we can to reduce that stress is worth a try. This is why we recommend enrolling in one of the TSA's programs.

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