PreCheck trusted traveler lanes arrive at SFO

Look for the PreCheck logo at SFO starting next Wednesday, Nov 14.

It’s official: Starting on Wednesday, November 14,  the TSA’s popular PreCheck trusted traveler security lanes make their long-awaited debut at San Francisco International Airport.

PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. SFO is one of the last major airports in the US to get PreCheck.

Initially, there will be only two PreCheck lanes: One at United’s premium or elite level member checkpoint (“F3”) in Terminal 3; the other at the joint American/Virgin America checkpoint at Terminal 2. Both PreCheck lanes will be located on the far left side of the checkpoints with PreCheck directional signage.

There will be no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

Only specially selected passengers flying United or American can use PreCheck lanes when they open on Wednesday.

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There is no definitive word yet on when or whether Alaska, Delta or US Airways passengers will see PreCheck lanes at Terminal 1.  A Delta spokeswoman told TravelSkills, “We will continue to keep an eye on the number of our customers [in the Bay Area] who participate in PreCheck.  As that number grows, a specially designated PreCheck line is possible in the future.”

For now, Virgin America passengers cannot use PreCheck lanes at T2 because the carrier is not yet part of PreCheck, which the TSA still considers a pilot program. Virgin spokesperson Jennifer Thomas said, “Carriers need a certain number of eligible participants in their frequent flyer programs for TSA to accept them into the testing and initial operation of the program. TSA recently expanded that pool, and as a result we are now working with them on this and hope to be in – in the near future.”

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must first opt in to an invitation from United or American or sign up here. You can request an invitation from United here (requires Mileage Plus sign in). American Airlines AAdvantage members can opt in here.

In addition all Global Entry, Nexus and other card-carrying trusted travelers that hold special clearance from US Customs and Border Protection are eligible for PreCheck.

PreCheck or CLEAR?

Starting next Wednesday security checkpoints at SFO will have THREE special fast lanes for frequent travelers: PreCheck,  CLEAR  and airline first class/elite lines. These three options are all slightly different.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security lines for an annual fee of $179. Members still have to remove shoes, laptops, etc. There are CLEAR lanes at all entrances at all terminals, including international, at SFO.  CLEAR’s  biggest selling point is that it guarantees access to the front of the line—and this certainty about the airport experience is very valuable to time-pressed frequent travelers. (Click here for a free two-month trial of  CLEAR )

The most important thing to know about PreCheck is that selection is random—which means that even of you have obtained PreCheck status, you are NOT guaranteed access to the PreCheck lane. You will only know that you are selected for the PreCheck lane when you arrive at airport security and allow the agent to scan your boarding pass or smartphone. Three beeps from the scanner means that you can proceed to the PreCheck lane. One beep means that you must enter the (likely longer) non-PreCheck line for standard screening. For security reasons, the TSA will not reveal its selection criteria. PreCheck is a free program if you are one of the lucky few chosen by your airline for this status. If not, you can buy your way into PreCheck status by spending $100 to get Global Entry from Customs and Border Protection (which provides access to faster kiosks vs immigration lines when returning to the US from abroad).

For those who have CLEAR and PreCheck,  CLEAR just announced that it has been approved to integrate PreCheck eligible CLEAR members into the PreCheck screening lane after they verify with CLEAR. “We are working with the airports and local TSA to operationalize the integration, which will hopefully be done soon,” said CLEAR spokesperson Nora O’Malley.

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Finally, if you are flying in first or business class, or are an elite level member of an airline frequent flyer program, you will have access to a special, shorter (most of the time) security line. United recently discontinued its Premier Line option, which allowed non-elite members to pay a fee for access to faster elite security lines.

So which line makes the most sense for you? Will you opt-in for PreCheck? Spend $100 for Global Entry? Pay $179 for guaranteed CLEAR access? Or just stick with what you’ve got? Please leave your comments below!

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  • Chris McGinnis

    Arrgh! Last we checked about a month ago, PreCheck at SFO was only at United and American gates, not Delta. Let us know if you experience anything different. thanks– chris

  • musesum

    I just called Delta. A nice lady with an Indian accent helpfully answered every question except the one I kept asking: “Is there a Pre-Check kiosk for Delta at SFO”. She said that my records were incompatible because my reservation had my middle name, even though I can see my record in my Delta SkyMiles page. She offered to direct me to the Global Entry page, even though I had told her that I already had my Global Entry card and that I just want to know if there is a Pre-Check kiosk for my Delta flight. Not check-in; PRE-CHECK. She said yes, at the Delta Counter. I said: “So, you are saying there is a PRE-CHECK counter, not CHECK-IN; PRE-CHECK. She said “I do apologize, that would be check-in, sir” Very nice lady, who aims to please the customer, even if that means giving out the absolutely WRONG ANSWER”. Next time. I’m flying UA.

  • musesum

    I just called Delta. A nice lady with an Indian accent helpfully answered every question except the one I kept asking: “Is there a Pre-Check kiosk for Delta at SFO”. She said that my records were incompatible because my reservation had my middle name, even though I can see my record in my Delta SkyMiles page. She offered to direct me to the Global Entry page, even though I had told her that I already had my Global Entry card and that I just want to know if there is a Pre-Check kiosk for my Delta flight. Not check-in; PRE-CHECK. She said yes, at the Delta Counter. I said: “So, you are saying there is a PRE-CHECK counter, not CHECK-IN; PRE-CHECK. She said “I do apologize, that would be check-in, sir” Very nice lady, who aims to please the customer, even if that means giving out the absolutely WRONG ANSWER”. Next time. I’m flying UA.

  • Jack

    I used to use the premier line for all my United flights. The problem was the long line before getting to the TSA agent. Because most of the travelers are well seasoned the line went very rapidly once past the TSA agent. Once clear opened again at SFO I have been using it exclusively and find that I spend no more than 5 minutes going through security. Unless they open a dedicated line to precheck flyers I probably will continue to use Clear.

  • Jeanette

    I love the PreCheck. I started using this earlier this year and have been waiting for it to arrive at SFO. I recommend going the Global Entry route if you do any international travel. The $100 is for 5 years, not an annual fee… which tips the scale a little more.

  • chris

    Scott: Virgin says that they are working on it–see the quote in this post.
    — chris

  • Scott

    Any idea if Virgin America will start inviting their elite members to join PreCheck?

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  • Scott

    I just experienced the PreCheck line at Houston IAH, for the first time. It was terrific. Completely empty. No shoes off, or laptop out. Just like the old days!

    I signed up when United sent me an email, and I’m also a Nexus (like Global Entry) cardholder, so perhaps that helps.

    Looking forward to seeing PreCheck at SFO!

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