There are many stressful things about traveling, but we truly hate going through the security checkpoints at airports. Who doesn’t? When you have certain anxieties, though, airport security can be extra stressful (especially during a pandemic – stay up-to-date!). Don’t get me wrong, crossing at land borders isn’t pain-free, but the whole TSA process is in a league of its own. That’s why we’ve wondered if enrolling in TSA Precheck can help our travel anxiety.
Going through security is such a small part of a trip, but many travelers spend a lot of time preparing for it. You’ve got to have the right containers, know the rules about liquids and electronics, and commune in close quarters with everyone else to survive the process. For our own reasons, we just don’t like it.
What I Hate About Airport Security
I’ve been randomly selected for additional screening so many times — even while carrying my grandmother’s ashes — that I’ve come to expect it. The germophobe in me, however, is highly triggered by almost every aspect of the TSA checkpoint. Getting through it can be traumatic (check out our 7 Carry-On Essentials for Germaphobes). There have been times when I’ve cried through a flight because it was so difficult. Here are some of the things that bother me most:
- Walking with no shoes
- Putting jackets in gross bins (where people have put their shoes)
- Having personal items handled by strangers
- Feeling rushed
- Being surrounded by people who are sick
If I’m standing in line with someone coughing right behind me and I’m walking around shoeless in an airport, you can be sure I’m freaking out inside. The last thing I want is to look nervous and get flagged by an agent, so it takes a monumental effort to look “normal.”
What Josh Hates About Security Checkpoints
While he’s less concerned about being sanitary, Josh gets just as anxious at the TSA security checkpoint. He’s not a fan of lining up for anything (even the grocery checkout), so the disorganization that can exist among travelers is something he’d prefer to avoid. Here are some of the things that make the screening an ordeal for him:
- Not picking the “right” line.
- Making the people behind him wait.
- Lack of efficiency.
- Not wanting to bring attention to himself.
- Needing to follow the rules perfectly.
Before we talked through our mutual dislike for the security process, I had no idea why he was so agitated. I’d assumed he was annoyed with me. Now that I’m more aware of his triggers, I try to avoid them by allowing him to choose the line we go through and being more proactive about grabbing a bin. It’s been wonderful to learn how to support each other and make everything go more smoothly.
How to Apply for TSA Precheck
Before applying for TSA Precheck, it’s a good idea to determine whether it is included in any of your credit card perks or with any of the loyalty programs to which you belong. If you aren’t eligible through those channels, it’s still pretty easy to apply for TSA Precheck in most areas. If you’ve ever considered signing up, these are the steps you’ll have to take:
Step 1 – Apply Online: The online application is very straightforward and should take no more than five minutes to complete. Once you’ve submitted all of the required information, you’ll be prompted to choose a location and schedule an in-person appointment. Sometimes you’ll have to wait weeks just for an appointment, so do your homework and see which location is the least busy and choose that one.
Step 2 – Background Check: You’ll need to bring your identification and payment for in-person appointments. You’ll also have your picture and fingerprints taken. I don’t love touching a surface where hundreds of people have put their germy hands, but the agent had hand sanitizer ready for those who wanted it!
Step 3 – Wait for Confirmation: You won’t know the status of your application right away. In fact, it can take up to 30 days to receive an update. In the meantime, you can check the status on their website.
Step 4 – Enjoy TSA Precheck: If you’re approved, you’ll be given a Known Traveler Number by email or in a written letter. To use TSA Precheck, you’ll add your KTN to your ticket before you travel. You’ll want to make sure that the name on your reservation matches the one associated with your KTN.
Benefits of TSA Precheck
Travelers with TSA Precheck enjoy some awesome benefits. While the following perks may not be important to all, for people like Josh and me, it can be a sanity saver:
- You won’t need to remove shoes, belts, or hoodies/light jackets.
- Your liquids can stay in your bags!
- No need to remove laptops and electronics from luggage.
- Wait times of five minutes or less.
This already has me and my OCD smiling! While the risk is low, you could pick up something nasty by walking barefoot in an airport. For me, it’s a matter of not wanting to further expose myself in a situation where I’m already feeling vulnerable.
Shorter, more orderly lines really help alleviate stress too. I’ll be surrounded by fewer people for less time, and Josh won’t have to worry that he’s picked the wrong line. It’s definitely worth $85 for five years!
TSA Precheck with Kids
According to the official TSA Precheck website, “Children age 12 and younger may use the TSA PreCheck® lane when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the indicator on their boarding pass.”
Here are a few things to keep in mind for kids 12 and under:
- The screening process has been modified. If there are any concerns during screening, TSA officers will work with parents or travel guardians.
- They can leave their shoes, light jackets/hoodies, and hats on!
- Kids won’t be separated from their parents/guardian.
- Babies need to be carried in your arms through the metal detector (they can’t be in a carrier). A sling is okay, but it may lead to additional screening.
- Contact TSA Cares 72 hours prior to traveling for assistance with medical conditions and disabilities.
For more about liquids (including breast milk and juice boxes), car seats, strollers, and more read through the official guidelines.
If your children are 13 years and older, they will need their own TSA Precheck registration. Additionally, the standard screening procedures apply and they must be screened. If there is an alarm, the individual will undergo additional screening.
Updated Guidelines from TSA
Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In response to this, TSA asks travelers to change the way they go through the screening process at airports. We are not fully changing this blog post as we don’t know if these changes will be permanent, but we’ll include them here in the interim:
- Face masks are required.
- Maintain a social distance of six feet wherever possible while at the checkpoint.
- Wash your hands before and after the screening procedures.
- Do not place items such as your phone or wallet in the nasty bins. Put them in personal carry-on luggage.
- Up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes (including the jumbo packs!) are now allowed in carry-on and checked luggage.
- Food may be inspected but can usually be left in your carry-on bag.
- If you weren’t able to renew your driver’s license or state-issued ID due to the pandemice, TSA will accept them up to a year after expiration date.
We can’t even tell you how many times the previous restrictions cost us a bottle of hand sanitizer, so this is a welcomed change. Hopefully, they will continue to allow this after we’ve moved past the outbreak.
Can TSA Precheck Help Travel Anxiety?
If you’ve made it this far, you might still be wondering whether TSA Precheck can help with travel anxiety. The truth is that it really depends on the person. Anxiety manifests in different ways in different people, and only you can know whether it’s beneficial.
That being said, avoiding long lines, having less hassle during the screening process, and not having to put your shoes back on/repack your bag will probably create a more peaceful traveling experience for anyone — not just travelers with anxiety. Along with my favorite essential oils for beating travel anxiety, TSA Precheck has really made this process easier.
When you can simply stroll up to the TSA screening area, walk through the detectors, retrieve your bag, and continue walking to your gate, we’d say your trip is already off to a great start.