Stories from the Road: Airport Diaries Pt 1 TSA Precheck Survival Guide

For over a year, I’ve written about bookstores. It’s a pleasure for me to find new independent stores, support them with my patronage, and promote them through this blog. I will continue to do this as there are still stores I’ve not visited. Some I’ve been told about and others are still waiting to be noticed. At this time, I’m expanding my stories to include other travel tales. It’s amazing both in good, surprising, and head-shaking ways. As I share these please comment below or to my Twitter–your thoughts and experiences. Have you gone through a similar experience? What have you seen. Let’s share our stories from the road…

Stories from the Road: Airport Diaries, Part 1 TSA Precheck Survival


Airport travel is an acquired skill-set that anyone can pick up. The regular security lines are a great place to learn the ropes before ever setting foot in a TSA Precheck line. That line is for all of those who went through a rigorous background check so that they can get through security faster, without taking off shoes, belts, wallets, and anything in pockets. The bonus is passing through the metal detector instead of the body scanner.

There are three things to know about TSA Precheck that makes the experience smooth and low stress for you and those in line behind you.

  1. Do not get into the TSA Precheck line if you don’t have the clearance.

This may seem too obvious, but it happens 9 times out of 10 at Detroit Metro Airport. I enter the gate where the banner signifies the pathway for TSA Precheck only. There are four people in front of me. Three of the four people are told by the polite security personnel to go to the line for normal processing. I can understand how one person might mistakenly enter the line, but three is not an accident. The first person gets their ticket scanned and the resultant beep indicates they do not have the clearance. When this is explained, the other people in line should realize their fate.

No logo for TSA Precheck on the ticket means no entrance. Somehow they must think that their situation will be different. It’s not. The rest of us who went through the background check, set up the soonest available appointment 30 days out, and paid the fee are now held up from our short connection* because of these people who did not go through the vetting process. Please do not try to take the short line if you do not have TSA Precheck. Security will not let you through.

Just to be clear for those unfamiliar with TSA Precheck: These travelers go through a shorter and faster security check line because we’ve been vetted, and because not enough people have gone through the process to slow the line. This means we might show up for our flights under the recommended two hours, perhaps with 45 minutes to an hour before our gate closes. Time is of the essence. Each person trying to cut the line without clearance leads to unnecessary stress. Yes, we should be responsible for choosing to operate on a short timeline, but now we can blame the non-vetted person instead.

  1. Have ticket and ID ready

During one security check in Raleigh-Durham, there was a line of five of us. We all waited patiently for our turn to see the security person reviewing tickets and id. The couple in front of me on their turn, walked up to the security and proceeded to shuffle through pockets and purse to find their ticket and ID. They took their time as if no line of TSA Precheck travelers were not burning holes into their backs.

Just as with the normal security line, please have your plane ticket and ID ready to show. This is especially important for the TSA Precheck line. You’re dealing mostly with seasoned travelers who expect everyone to do their part on getting through the line as fast as possible. Not having a ticket and ID ready is like going to present before a seasoned professional group having not prepared for the event.

  1. Listen and follow directions

Once past the ticket and ID security point, the staff reminds everyone what they can and cannot take through the screening. What they say is specific and concrete. Some of those rules (as of this posting) are:

  • Leave all tech inside your bags
  • Empty pockets, except for wallet
  • Leave your shoes on
  • Do not take off your belt

The rest is standard fare from the normal security, such as amounts of liquids.

A first time TSA Precheck traveler may be disconcerted. That’s understandable, and why the security people endlessly repeat the above information. Listen. Follow their directions. Freezing like a scared animal is not a good tactic when there are experienced travelers waiting behind you. Best to step out of the line to gather your thoughts or turn for help. A security person or harried traveler will be happy to assist, if only to get the line moving again.

Safe travels.



    • Kelly Bixby on July 14, 2015 at 11:31 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent photo to go with your story, John. I have to say, TSA Pre-check is worth the cost, for those who travel regularly.

    • Yibbity on July 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm
    • Reply

    I haven’t flown since I was patted down for the second time, years ago. The TSA Precheck would not mean to me, what it means to you. I would think I was in a line to get prechecked by TSA before I could board the flight. Maybe the wording needs to be changed and a new sign made.

    • Claire Murray on July 3, 2015 at 11:48 am
    • Reply

    Good advice and very funny!

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