Traveling as a family does require a bit more planning and time than solo jaunts. And flying can add quite a bit of stress to a family’s travels. Let’s look at two of the major government programs that can help you expedite your family’s travels, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Do you know the difference?
TSA PreCheck or Global Entry – Which is Right for Your Family?
When you’re ready to fly with your family, arriving at the airport can be overwhelming and stressful. Waiting in lines to check bags, then waiting in line again at security, and finally waiting at the gate to board your plane. Every single one of those steps can stress a family, not to mention require you to have octopus arms to manages all the bags, documents, and kids.
The United States Department of Homeland Security has two programs in place that can help expedite your airport travel time, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Many people think these programs are just for business or frequent flyers. But let’s look at the benefit and cost of these programs for families.
TSA PreCheck is operated through the Transportation Security Administration, TSA. This is designed to expedite your way through the security checkpoints at certain airport in the United States. Currently the program is operating at over 180 airports and there are 16 partner airlines.
For families, TSA PreCheck will often give you a shorter wait line at security, but not always. Recently, I have seen PreCheck lines that are just as long as the traditional lines, not surprising since there are over 3 million PreCheck members already. But those PreCheck lines do come with an additional perk, what you can leave IN your bags.
TSA PreCheck members can move more quickly though the security checkpoints because they don’t have to remove all the standard items from their carry-on luggage. Liquids, laptops, shoes, belts, and light jackets can all stay where they are, allowing everyone to move more quickly through. For traveling families, this is one of my favorite perks of PreCheck. No more unpacking and repacking multiple suitcases and bags while in line.
To enroll in TSA PreCheck you need to go through two application steps, and pay $85 for a 5-year membership. The TSA PreCheck program is open to US residents who can clear the background check.
First, you need to fill out an online application for TSA PreCheck. Part of this process will be choosing an appointment time at an enrollment center. The last step is the in-person appointment at an enrollment center where your paperwork will be finalized with document verification and fingerprinting. Then it’s time to wait for your acceptance or denial letter. You can check online after a couple of weeks to see your status as well. You will be granted a Known Traveler Number (KTN), which you will then input in your reservation when booking airfare.
With your KTN on your airfare reservation (for participating airlines), your boarding pass will then be printed with the special TSA Pre✔ notation allowing you entry to the designated line.
An added perk for families who are looking to save some money is that children 12 and under can join their parent in the TSA PreCheck line if the parent has PreCheck. Families with travelers age 13+ must have their own TSA Pre✔ notation on their boarding pass to be granted entry.
Here’s my “we’ve been there” TravelingMom secret: if I have my KTN noted on my frequent flyer profile, my whole family who is booked on my same reservation has received the TSA Pre✔ notation on their boarding passes. This means when I book my husband’s ticket on my same reservation, he’s received the TSA PreCheck perk. This has happened every time for us, but this is my personal experience and not a publicized part of the program.
Global Entry is a program associated with the US Customs and Border Protection. This should be the first clue as to whether this program is a fit for your family. It’s designed to help expedite your international travel into the United States. There is an extensive list of eligibility nationalities and requirements, so that’s your first step to see if you’re a fit for the program.
The best secret for Global Entry is that it costs $100 for 5 years, but your CBP PASSID can be used as your KTN for domestic flights, granting you TSA PreCheck with your Global Entry. So, for $15 more than the TSA PreCheck cost, you can have Global Entry expediting.
I can’t specifically say what happens when you enter the US with Global Entry, since I haven’t used it. My understanding of the process from what I’ve read and witnessed is that you’re allowed a special entry lane that lets you skip the paperwork system and clear the border processing lines faster.
It’s important to note that the Global Entry program is a more extensive application and the wait times for your interview can be longer than wait times for TSA PreCheck interview. Another important note is that every individual needs a Global Entry ID to use the program. Kids cannot join parents in the expedited lanes unless they too are enrolled in the program.
If you’re traveling solely between the United States and Canada or Mexico, you might consider investigating the NEXUS and SENTRI trusted traveler programs that are designed for those specific border crossings.
The decision really comes down to how much your family travels internationally. If you believe that you will take one trip internationally in the next 5 years, and you’re not in a hurry to obtain your trusted traveler number, Global Entry is probably the way to go at just $15 more. Just realize again that each member of a traveling family would need to apply and be approved in order to grant the whole family access to the expedited Global Entry lanes.
If you travel only domestically, alone or with your young kids, then TSA PreCheck is a great, affordable choice for helping you travel through airport screening more smoothly and quickly. Be sure to check out our tips for Flying with Kids: Secrets to Success and How and What to Pack to Maintain Sanity while Flying to make your next trip to the airport a better one!
To learn more about these programs and to apply, visit the Homeland Security Trusted Traveler page for information about the Global Entry and other international programs, and the Transportation Security Administration about TSA PreCheck. This helpful comparison chart might also help you determine which program is right for your family.