Expedited Airports

Demystifying four popular clearance programs 


by Lee Lewis Husk

Photo Courtesy: gettyimages.com/Chalabala

Check your baggage, proceed to airport security screening and there it is–a long line. You go to the back of the queue while watching others skip the line and breeze through screening. If you like saving time and avoiding the wait, the federal government and private business have options for travelers. Here are the four most common expedited screening programs, three operated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Programs (Global Entry, TSA PreCheck™ and NEXUS) and one run by the private company CLEAR.

TSA-PreCheck: Departing flights

The most popular program is TSA PreCheck, which surpassed 15 million active members in 2023 and is offered at more than 200 United States airports. Operated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the program gives members access to lanes with a modified screening process, meaning that belts, shoes and light jackets can be worn through screening, and laptops and TSA-compliant liquids and gels can stay in carry-on luggage. Ninety-two percent of TSA PreCheck members wait less than 10 minutes at airport security checkpoints. Applicants must complete a five-minute, online questionnaire and a 10-minute, in-person background check at one of 630-plus enrollment centers across the United States. Once approved, members get a Known Traveler Number, which should be added to a flight reservation. Travelers ages 17 or younger can go through the TSA PreCheck lane with a parent or guardian on the same itinerary. TSA PreCheck is perfect for frequent fliers or those who don’t like waiting in line. The cost is $78 for a five-year membership.

Global Entry: Departing flights and international arrivals

For individuals who travel abroad, even infrequently, Global Entry is a good choice. The $100 membership fee (scheduled to increase in October) includes TSA PreCheck, plus international travelers returning home by air, land and sea can skip long lines at customs. Instead, Global Entry members use touchless portals which snap a biometric photo before instructing them to proceed to a CBP officer for streamlined clearance. The new Global Entry Mobile App allows travelers to bypass the portals by validating their arrival to the United States on their iOS or Android device prior to entering the Federal Inspection Services area. Global Entry applicants need a valid passport and, like TSA PreCheck, must visit an enrollment center for fingerprinting and an ID check, plus an interview. (Note: Portland and Boise both have enrollment centers.) Global Entry has fewer interview centers than TSA PreCheck, and individuals will be asked additional questions about their travel history in the past five years. Expect to wait four to six months for approval. For faster approval, check out the Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) program, which allows conditionally approved applicants to schedule an interview on arrival into the United States. On the West Coast, participating airports in Portland, Seattle and eight California locations offer EoA appointments.

NEXUS: Canadian and United States border crossing

If you cross between the United States and Canada regularly, NEXUS is for you. Travelers who apply will undergo risk assessment by both countries and once approved will pay $50 to be certified by NEXUS for five years. Members can use speedier processing lanes at border crossings, as well as NEXUS kiosks when entering Canada by air, and Global Entry portals when entering from the United States. Individuals must submit an online application and also schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center. For Oregon and Idaho residents, Blaine, Washington, and Sweetgrass, Montana, are the closest NEXUS enrollment centers. NEXUS members can use TSA PreCheck security lines at airports within the United States. Understand that processing time for the program may take up to 14 months.

Clear: Biometric verification

CLEAR Plus is an expedited security program run by the publicly-traded company CLEAR. It is offered at 50-plus United States airports. Rather than wait in line for an agent to review their ID, CLEAR members enter a separate line where they submit a fingerprint or iris scan. After this, a CLEAR representative will escort members to the head of the main screening line. See CLEAR for prices at clearme.com

NOTE: Annual fees are subject to change. Not all airports offer expedited screening and children may need their own membership. Information was accurate at print time.