Lara MacLean contacted our advocacy team with an angry tale of her recent ejection from the TSA PreCheck line at the airport in Fort Myers. But she doesn’t have TSA PreCheck approval, nor did she get a random invitation to join this line. So why did she get on it in the first place?
Maclean’s case is a lesson in airport etiquette and the importance of understanding the rules and protocols associated with the various security lines maintained by the Transportation Security Administration.
But my children received a random TSA PreCheck stamp
“Both of my teenagers got a random TSA PreCheck stamp on their airline tickets, but I did not,” MacLean recalled. “The regular security line at Ft Myers was so long before we could even see the TSA PreCheck line. Once we saw where it was, we left the regular line and got in that line.”
MacLean says that an American Airlines agent told her that because her children (ages 13 and 16) had randomly received the TSA PreCheck stamp, she could also use this invitation-only security line.
Not true. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
When she reached the front of the TSA PreCheck line, the agents let her know that she wasn’t going to be allowed through to the other side.
“I had sent my children through the TSA PreCheck line first,” MacLean reported. “But when I tried to follow them, the agent yelled at me. She said I wasn’t a TSA PreCheck customer.”
TSA: “If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, this line is not for you!”
Despite her pleas to follow her teenagers, the security agents would not permit it. The agent explained that without TSA PreCheck, the line wasn’t for her. He redirected her to the regular line to join all the other passengers without TSA PreCheck approval.
And to add insult to injury, after MacLean found some sympathetic travelers in the regular line who allowed her to step ahead of them, an agent quickly swooped in. He told her that line jumping also was not permitted.
“The TSA agent asked me if I never had schooling. She said there’s no cutting in line,” MacLean recalled. “Then she asked me why I thought I was more important than the hundred people behind me. Some guy yelled ‘let her the f*** through’. And people started clapping. Then I was accused of starting a riot.”
There’s more, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll jump to the end of this saga.
MacLean’s security line troubles ended just in time for her to catch her flight. In her letter to our advocacy team, she asked that we advocate with the TSA so that parents should always get to go through the precheck line if their children get the random stamp.
“An excellent way to save time and stress”
Of course, airlines and the TSA should not force parents and children to use separate security lines at the airport. But it would appear that MacLean misunderstood the random TSA PreCheck stamp on her teenagers’ tickets and what it permitted.
The Transportation Security Administration maintains the TSA PreCheck security lines for prescreened travelers who have applied and received the official TSA PreCheck designation. At airports throughout the United States, these passengers can “speed through security.” The agency touts the program as an excellent way for travelers to save “time and stress.”
Keep moving. TSA Pre✓® saves you time and stress. With a 5 year, $85 membership, you can speed through security and don’t need to remove your:
shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.
Of course, as MacLean discovered, it’s also a great way to add time and stress to your travels if you hop in that line uninvited.
How to get TSA PreCheck:
- Fill out the online TSA PreCheck application
- Pay an $85 fee
- Be fingerprinted
- Participate in a 10-minute interview at an enrollment center
Only after approval can those travelers consistently enjoy all the benefits of the program.
But MacLean has never applied for TSA PreCheck. Nor had her children. So how did they end up with the random stamp on their boarding passes?
Yes, random TSA PreCheck assignments are still a thing
The Transportation Security Authority continues to grant random stamps to some passengers who have been deemed to be low-risk travelers. Like two teenagers.
However, many official TSA PreCheck passengers have expressed great dismay with the practice of providing random travelers with free access to this line.
Our publisher, Christopher Elliott, has written about passengers finding the TSA PreCheck lines as long as, or even longer than, the regular security lines. And some frustrated travelers who qualify for this perk are choosing not to use that line at all.
So something is a bit broken in the current TSA PreCheck program. The agency may be issuing too many random PreCheck stamps or the resources for this program have not kept pace with the number of travelers officially approved.
What to do if a family member gets a random stamp and you don’t?
Families who discover one or more members have been granted a random TSA PreCheck stamp will need to decide if they wish to separate during the security process. One random stamp does not grant the designation to the rest of the group.
The Transportation Security Administration clarifies on its website:
I am traveling with my family; can they also use the TSA Pre✓® lane?
Children ages 12 and younger may use the TSA Pre✓® lane when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the indicator on their boarding pass. Travelers 13 and older who do not have a TSA Pre✓® boarding pass must go through standard security lanes or apply. Before applying, TSA recommends reviewing the various DHS trusted traveler programs, such as the TSA Pre✓® Application Program, Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI, to determine the best program for your family.
Before entering the security screening area, there is typically a TSA agent directing passengers to the correct line. In MacLean’s situation, a quick check with that employee could have provided all the clarification that she needed. At that time, she could have chosen for the entire family to remain in the regular security line so as not to be separated from her children.
Something you don’t want to see: An SSSS stamp on your boarding pass
In case you are wondering, there is also an opposite to the TSA PreCheck stamp.
The agency can randomly pick you for the Secondary Security Screening Selection (SSSS). The SSSS stamp on your boarding pass will require you to spend extra time with the security agents.
The bottom line
Travelers who believe that TSA agents have treated them poorly can use our TSA contacts to make their concerns known. Alternatively, an official complaint can be registered directly with the Department of Homeland Security’s Travelers Redress Program. (DHS TRIP)
The bottom line: If you haven’t applied for TSA PreCheck or received a random TSA PreCheck stamp, you shouldn’t get into that invitation-only security line.
(FYI: Make sure to check out Christopher’s complete guide to the TSA before you head to the airport. )