I went on a plane for the first time when I was 21 to attend the California State University Northridge Assistive Technology Conference (commonly referred to as CSUN), which took place in San Diego, California. One of my friends told me that I should have two things when flying to San Diego- a friend with me on the flight, and a TSA Pre-Check. Due to my friend getting moved to a different flight and severe weather in the weeks leading up to my trip, I had neither of those things.
I remember thinking to myself that maybe I didn’t need a TSA Pre-Check and that I could handle all of these things on my own, but when I started dropping items in the airport security line and almost slipped on the floor when walking in socks, I scheduled a time to finish registering for the TSA Pre-Check as soon as I got back from California, and have been using it ever since.
Here are my tips for how to get a TSA Pre-Check for American citizens, and how a TSA Pre-Check helps me as a visually impaired traveler who uses a blindness cane.
A TSA Pre-Check is a program that allows US citizens or lawful permanent residents that have not been convicted of certain crimes to go through expedited security lanes at participating airports- this works for both domestic and most international flights. TSA Pre-Check services are also available for people that are Global Entry members, as well as NEXUS and SENTRI members.
Travelers are issued a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that is attached to their airline tickets and allows them to go through the expedited security line. With a TSA Pre-Check, travelers do not need to remove laptops, shoes, belts, light jackets, or liquids and gels from their carry-on or personal items, though these items still have to be scanned. Most people who go through this expedited security process wait five minutes or less- my current record is two and a half minutes from the moment I stepped in line. The Pre-Check costs $85 and is valid for five years, which is the equivalent of $17 a year.
Yes, the TSA will still search blindness canes and put them through the x-ray machine even if a traveler has TSA Pre-Check, but in my experience, the screening process for the cane is faster and I spend very little time without my blindness cane. At most of the airports I have gone to, I put all of my other items on the conveyor belt first, and walk with the blindness cane to a full body scanner. Once inside the scanner, a TSA employee would take my cane and scan it in the machine, and then have me step out of the scanner and walk about five steps before someone would hand me my blindness cane again. There are walking canes available for people who need to lean on something temporarily while their mobility aid is scanned, but I don’t need my blindness cane to walk five steps in a straight line.
The first part of application process for a TSA Pre-Check is online and can be found on the TSA website. The form asks for personal and demographic information such as name, date and place of birth, residence/citizenship information, and similar items. Once this form is completed, travelers will need to select two forms of government issued identification to bring to an in-person appointment to complete the remaining TSA Pre-Check steps.
The TSA Pre-Check form is fully keyboard accessible and can be enlarged with screen magnification or the browser zoom function, or read out loud with a screen reader/text-to-speech software. I strongly discourage travelers from using visual interpreting services like Be My Eyes to complete TSA Pre-Check forms because there is a high volume of personally identifiable information.
In-person TSA Pre-Check application appointments can be done at various locations, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, select airports, and other places that vary by city/state. Appointments last about fifteen minutes and require the traveler to verbally confirm the information provided on the online form, as well as sign papers consenting to a background check. Travelers then present their two forms of government ID and put their hands on a machine to scan their fingerprints. At the end of the appointment, travelers can pay the TSA Pre-Check fee with a credit card, cash, debit card, or cash.
My appointment took place at an airport near my college a week after I applied for the TSA Pre-Check online- I originally planned to go to the DMV but it was closed due to severe weather and not in an area I was familiar with. Since I don’t have a driver’s license, I brought my state-issued ID card and my passport card.
Glasses with clear lenses are automatically approved for TSA Pre-Check photos. However, travelers who wear dark or tinted prescription glasses for medical reasons will only be approved if the traveler has a letter or other documentation from a doctor that says the glasses need to be worn for medical reasons. Even though my state ID shows me wearing tinted glasses, my passport does not, so the TSA employee asked me to remove my glasses for the photo since I didn’t have any paperwork with me that stated I wear tinted glasses for medical reasons.
Once the TSA Pre-Check application process is finished, approved travelers will be issued a Known Traveler Number (KTN) within a week of their appointment. KTNs will be sent via email, along with instructions on how to locate the traveler’s KTN online.
When booking a flight, travelers can add their KTN to their reservation in the frequent flyer profile, double-checking to ensure they do not enter information in the redress field. The KTN is not automatically added to reservations, and users will need to add the KTN manually each time they book a flight.
To add a KTN to an existing flight reservation, go to Reservation Details and select Edit Traveler Information, then enter the KTN. Again, ensure that information is not entered into the redress field.
Updated November 2023; original post published June 2018.
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