America is a very different place than it was just a dozen years ago...
If you've flown out of an airport in the last five years, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
In 2010, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) changed its passenger-screening policies. Since then, the TSA has forced travelers to submit to a virtual strip search. These full-body scanner machines – called backscatter X-ray scanners – were so invasive, the TSA eventually had to remove them due to privacy concerns.
But these scanners are still in use elsewhere, like courthouses. And the current body scanners – millimeter wave scanners – are only slightly less invasive.
You can choose to opt out... But then you must endure an invasive pat-down search, where a TSA screener lays hands all over your body.
It's hard to believe these degradations now happen in "the land of the free."
But as I'll show you today, there is a partial solution...
You have to jump through a few hoops and play the government's game. But once you do, you won't have to submit to humiliating searches.
The TSA has a "trusted traveler" program called "TSA PreCheck." Travelers who enroll in the program must undergo a background check and pay an $85 fee. The background check lasts for five years.
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After approval, PreCheck travelers can go through expedited screening lines about 80% of the time. These lines somewhat mimic the bygone days of air travel, including:
- Keeping shoes, belts, and light jackets on.
- Leaving laptops and toiletry bags in carry-on items.
- Greatly reduced time in line. (A recent Minneapolis screening took me about 30 seconds.)
Not every airport and airline is a part of the program, but the number is growing. Currently, about a dozen airlines – including Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest, and United – and more than 150 airports participate in the program. About 2 million travelers have enrolled in the program.
There's also a "backdoor" way into the program. Travelers enrolled in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program called "Global Entry" are eligible for PreCheck. Global Entry lets you skip the lines at passport control and customs when entering the U.S., and you get full PreCheck benefits. However, it's a little more expensive – a $100 fee for five years before you have to renew it.
If you fly mostly in the U.S. and want to skip invasive TSA searches, then the PreCheck program should be fine. But if you take one or two international flights a year, Global Entry can save you a lot of hassle. Plus, Global Entry usually takes less time to get approval.
As long as you're a U.S. citizen with no criminal background and you fill out the PreCheck or Global Entry application truthfully, you should be approved.
I've recommended my family take advantage of this. And if you travel frequently, I think it's well worth the background check and application fee. You can learn more about both programs here: TSA's PreCheck and CBP's Global Entry.
Participating in these programs is not a perfect solution to an out-of-control government. The TSA can still subject you to radiation scanning and pat-downs. But your odds of having a simple travel experience are improved.
And I know I'll personally never go through another full-body scanner again.
What We're Reading…
- Did you miss it? The 'Eifrig Family Travel Rule' could put $200-$600 in your pocket.
- TSA agents can now force some passengers go through a body scanner... even if they ask to opt out and get a full-body pat-down instead.
- Dear America: Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.