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Laura Lippstone Headshot

How to Breeze Through Airport Security

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Have you had it with the airport security sprint?

You know, where you have to factor in extra time at the airport and then become a wreck, juggling driver's license, boarding pass, jacket, belt, shoes, a baggie stuffed with liquids ready to ooze all over everything. Plus unwanted wear and tear on your laptop.

Then trying not to think about potentially nasty environmental vibes emanating from that body scan thingy that -- in my mind -- can't be good for you. Not true, says the government.

Followed by a fresh tidal wave of worry over whether you've left anything behind as you're stuffing your feet back into your shoes after the screening. Trust me -- it can happen. I once lost my driver's license.

You know it's all necessary (some would debate that point), but... if only it were a little easier.

It can be.

That's what I found out a few weeks ago, when I was bracing for the usual at Philadelphia airport. I was rendered speechless after being told I could go right through, everything intact.

And no body scan; just a stroll through a metal detector, which seems to me to be a lot less dangerous.

This lasted for about a month. Then, wham. I was back to the old airport security shuffle.

Where did this perk come from, and why did it vanish so quickly?

I posed those questions to the Transportation Security Administration, the folks in charge at airports.

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein explains.

Though I have a frequent flyer airline credit card, he said I was likely picked at random. Consequently, my airline boarding pass printed out with the words "TSA PreCheck." This was my magic ticket -- informing the TSA security folks I was eligible for the express security line.

Though Feinstein wouldn't get into specifics of how that's determined, he said key info like my name, date of birth and gender can figure in. (You generally have to include all that when you buy your ticket.)

The reason this perk was so short-lived, he said, was that it's done on a flight-to-flight basis. No guarantees.

Seems the only way to get through quicker on a more-consistent basis is to apply for the TSA PreCheck benefit. Yes, it does exist.

There are several ways of doing this, and all will cost you time and money. Depending on how much you fly, it may be worth it.

If you fly mostly in the U.S. and use certain airlines and airports, you can apply for what's called a Known Traveler Number. Depending on the airport, it may also mean expedited screening for international flights.

The program requires an online application and a visit to a TSA center, where you pay an $85 fee, show government ID and get fingerprinted.

Once you receive that number, you enter it every time you make an airline reservation. It's good for five years.

Most U. S. airport participate in the program, as do most U.S. airlines. However, some do not. They include Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit.

Feinstein says those airlines have also been invited to participate, but it's up to them to decide if they want in.

If you do a lot of international traveling, there's the Global Entry program. For $15 more, you're promised faster clearance through immigration, often through special kiosks.

Requirements are more stringent. A passport or proof of permanent U.S. residency is required. So is an interview.

There are similar programs that range in price. All require an interview and passport if you're flying between countries. (There may be exceptions for ground transportation between the U.S. and Canada.)

All memberships are good for five years. And they all include the TSA PreCheck, so you can get out and in more quickly.

While this all may sound like too much trouble, here's something to consider: If you have the PreCheck clearance and are traveling with kids 12 and under, they can use the express line too. Might be worth it right there.

A final caution: Even if you're signed up, there's still a chance you might end up in the regular security lines once in awhile due to "random" TSA security measures, says Feinstein.

Confused? Maybe this will help.

Or maybe not. Just when I thought I sort of understood the process, I was at the airport yesterday. "TSA PreCheck" showed up on my boarding pass again. Goodie. But I still had to take my laptop out of its case. Go figure.