Skip to main content
The future of travel is at your fingertips. And in your facial features. Particularly, your eyes. Known traveler programs, adopted en masse for their benefit of skipping long security lines at the airport, are leveraging travelers’ unique biometrics to bolster their screening strategies. Here, we take a closer look at the most popular programs, their benefits, and how they’re trending away from physical documents and focusing on physicality instead.
Do you have fifteen minutes and $85? Then you can save yourself hours of wait time in airport security lines. Applying for TSA PreCheck involves a five minute online application followed by a ten minute in-person interview at an enrollment center (such as your local airport), which includes a background check and fingerprinting. A five year membership costs $85, and grants you access to an expedited security line where you don’t have to remove or separately scan your laptop, liquids, shoes, or jackets. More than 200 domestic airports participate in the program—check to see if your home airport does here—as well as 56 international and domestic airlines. Once you’re approved, all you have to do is enter your Known Traveler Number when booking a flight. Note that you are not guaranteed TSA PreCheck for every flight. If you have TSA Pre and your boarding pass isn't marked as such, it’s worth mentioning this at the airline check-in counter to see if the designation can be added to your travel documents. Another tip—make sure all of your frequent flyer accounts have your KTN listed and in the appropriate field. This will make booking easier and passing through security lines faster.
What else can you expect from your TSA Pre membership? In June 2017, TSA began their first wave of biometric screening testing for TSA PreCheck travelers. Thanks to those fingerprints you provide during your interview, TSA could test fingerprint technology for members at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Denver International Airport. As of September 2018, travelers who enroll in TSA PreCheck or renew their membership are now required to also provide an image of their face. TSA plans to use these images to test facial biometric technology in PreCheck lanes at select airports in order to verify travelers’ identities and, ultimately, reduce the reliance on physical documents.
Tip: With TripIt Pro, you can find out security wait times—including those for TSA Pre lanes—before you even arrive at the airport. Armed with this intel, you can compare which lane is shortest and head straight there as soon as you arrive curbside. Plus, you can use the feature’s in-app airport map to locate amenities near each security checkpoint, like restrooms, restaurants, and more.
What’s the best reason to sign up for Global Entry? The feeling of breezing through customs lines after a long-haul red eye. The second best reason to sign up? TSA PreCheck membership is included. And bonus— some travel rewards credit cards issue statement credits if you charge the $100 application fee to your card.
Similar to the application process for TSA Pre, travelers submit an online application, attend an in-person interview, provide fingerprints, and complete a background check for Global Entry membership. A complete step-by-step overview of the application process can be found on the US Customs and Border Protection site. As a member of this Trusted Traveler Program, travelers don’t have to fill out any customs paperwork upon landing back in the US and can head straight to Global Entry kiosks. There, travelers scan their fingerprints and complete a customs declaration. Transaction receipt in-hand, travelers can then head to baggage claim or the exit—no waiting in line needed.
Global Entry membership is good for five years, and application for renewal can be completed online. Interviews may or may not be required for renewal, so keep an eye out for any next steps after you’ve submitted your renewal paperwork. All pertinent information regarding your membership is accessible via your online Trusted Traveler Program account.
Okay, so you’re expedited on the way in with TSA Pre, and you’re skipping lines on the way out with Global Entry—what more do you need? Maybe you’re wary of the ever-growing number of TSA Pre members—is there an alternative way to skip security lines? The answer to both of these questions is CLEAR. As a TSA Pre and CLEAR member, you skip the ID check part of TSA Pre screening and head straight to the bins. How does that work exactly? Instead of using traditional documents, CLEAR uses—you guessed it—biometrics. Specifically, the program scans your fingerprints and the irises of your eyes to verify your identity.
CLEAR membership runs $179 per year. You can sign up online and then complete your application at an airport kiosk in just a matter of minutes. If you’re flying out of one of CLEAR’s 25+ airports, you can also sign up for the service on-site. Ready for even more good news? With a TripIt Pro membership, you can try CLEAR on a four month free trial, plus you’ll receive a discounted annual rate of $159.
The above known traveler programs are catered to the majority of passengers traveling both internationally and domestically on a regular basis. However, as a business traveler, you may have specific needs. For instance, if you’re a US-based freelancer that frequently visits clients in Canada, you may want to consider the benefits of the NEXUS program. Or, if you favor one particular airline, make sure you're signed up for their frequent flyer program. Doing so enables you to earn elite status and benefit from its accompanying line-jumping perks. Regardless of which program you choose to suit your individual travel style, you’re likely to find that it’s what makes you an individual that will soon shape how you travel, too.