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.
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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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia. Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong. Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.
SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options. SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.