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Anyone who’s flown has been there — that moment when you’re passing through the TSA security checkpoint, and have to take off your shoes, empty your pockets, take off your belt and place your laptop in a bin. And you can double the fun if you have little kids in tow. Now TSA’s PreCheck program aims to make travel easier for those flying the increasingly complicated skies. But just in case you think PreCheck is a one-size-fits-all panacea, not so fast.

You can’t just sign up for PreCheck. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple … yet. TSA plans to — eventually — allow all travelers to apply directly to the PreCheck program, but it’s not clear when they’ll open up the application process. For now, travelers can enroll in the program in one of 2 ways: be selected to apply for the program based on your frequent-flyer status with an airline, or, enroll in one of several US Customs and Border Protection trusted traveler programs.

For Airline Frequent Flyers

Elite members of airlines’ frequent traveler programs — United, American, etc – if selected, can apply for PreCheck. If not selected, frequent flyers can still participate by joining a CBP Trusted Traveler program. Note that you must submit your biometric fingerprint for registration with the FBI, as well as undergo a criminal background check and pay an $85 fee to the TSA for a 5-year PreCheck membership. This program is slated to bring a total of $225 million to the TSA in 2013, and beyond that, over the next year, a reduction in passenger screening – the TSA’s goal is to see 25% of passengers see lighter scrutiny.

For Everyone Else

Travelers looking to enroll in PreCheck can sign up for one of several US Customs and Border Protection trusted traveler programs, such as Global Entry, which allows expedited clearance for what Customs deems to be “low-risk” travelers; Sentri, which is geared toward trusted frequent border-crossers; and Nexus, a joint Canada-US program that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to cross the Canada-US border quickly. All of these programs require paying fees, getting a background check, an interview and your fingerprint scanned , but once you’re all checked out, you’ll be issued a Known Traveler Number and be automatically enrolled in PreCheck.

Even if you qualify for PreCheck, keep in mind the current program isn’t without its kinks. Travel guru Peter Greenberg recently spelled out some of the drawbacks so far: For starters, you are not guaranteed a lighter screening – in fact, Greenberg was declined PreCheck on 2 of his last 5 flights. Also, he notes, PreCheck is not available at all airports (check the 97 nationwide that have it so far), and in one case, Greenberg found a PreCheck lane closed for the day by 7 a.m. In other words, this program still has its wrinkles to iron out. But, if you do successfully enroll and book a flight on a participating airline, at a participating airport, you may be eligible to get in that extra-short line, leave on your shoes and belt, and keep your laptop and liquids packed in your bag. Could one super-fast and easy experience at the security checkpoint make it all worth it? For the frequent traveler, we think so.

Planning a business trip?  Conduct business as usual while abroad with a first-class global data package for $25/100MB.  Go Global with Verizon.

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Lisa SinghLisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at TravelChannel.com. Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican...

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