How to sign up for TSA-Pre Privileges

It’s not well known that you can apply for a “Known Traveler Number” (KTN) from Homeland Security’s TSA Universal Enrollment Services pre-approval program. Enter the KTN when you make your reservation and your boarding pass will grant you unfettered access to the TSA-Pre line at airport security, so no waiting on the long lines with everyone else.

This is not the well publicized commercial ClearMe service whose kiosks one sees outside security stations. That runs $179/year. The TSA’s program has a one-time $85 fee. ClearMe has some additional advantages, such as including family members up to 18 year’s old. You decide if it is worth it.

To sign up fill out the Pre-Enroll instructions on the Universal Enroll website. After you do, you’ll get a choice of appointment times for an interview at a TSA-sponsored office typically near a major airport. In inscrutable government fashion the site enjoins you, “At this time, please only pre-enroll if you will visit an enrollment center within the next 120 days.” I’m not sure what this means. Should one fear that applications may no longer be taken for grant of such magnanimous privileges past 120 days from now? Or that there’s a growing trend to procrastinate among applicants to put off their appointments that the government wants to put to an end? I just went and signed up for the first appointment available. In San Jose, CA the office is run by IdentoGO. It occupies a non-descript suite in the back of a sign-less office building. Thank goodness for Google Maps.

When you enter, an appropriately surly employee will have you sign-in with the time that you’ve arrived, as given by a digital clock next to their clipboard. The employee will then diligently highlight the time you’ve entered in yellow highlighter. Shortly thereafter you will be led into a closed room where your passport will be scanned and fingerprints taken and you will be prompted on a computer screen with exactly the same questions that you filled out on the website.

However before the interview begins the interviewer, notable for her excessive use of eye-makeup, will call the desk where you signed in and verify your arrival time as was highlighted in yellow, to check that your arrival time is not more than seven minutes past your designated appointment time. This is clearly the most stringent requirement you need to meet to complete your application. Conceivably if you don’t meet this test your patience may be tested by being asked to wait until a free appointment slot opens up, on a time-available basis, on the outside chance that one would be available before close-of-business that day.

Promptness on your part is valued, but not on the government’s part. Once your interview is complete, you’ll be given a receipt and informed that a decision will be made on your application within 45 days, during which one imagines computers will be running day-and-night to verify your street address, and so on. Then with luck upon approval one additional travel nuisance will be lightened if not eliminated.