Already this holiday season promises to be busy. The AAA is expecting 53 million people on the move this Thanksgiving weekend.
As we get closer to pre-pandemic level travel numbers, this season promises to be difficult as travelers navigate new laws and rules.
To fly out of major airports like Dallas Fort Worth International Airport or Dallas Love Field, experts say frequent travelers have several options from a variety of trusted travel programs to choose from that could help them bypass long waits and lines.
There are many options, including some that are run by the government but will cost you money.
The Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Protection runs five Trusted Traveler Programs: Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST (for commercial truckers).
All of the programs allow pre-approved travelers to skip lines at security checkpoints in airports or at US Border Control and Customs.
Applicants are vetted through an application process which includes background checks, biometric screening, and an interview.
Travel expert Chris Elliott says travelers should evaluate their travel habits and decide if it is worth it.
“If you only fly one or two times a year, you do not need TSA Precheck. You can just wait in line. It’s not a big deal,” he said.
“But if you fly more than say two or three times in a year domestically, it might be worth it.”
Elliott says don’t assume you have to pay for the best perk.
He points to the free travel options at the DFW International Airport, including a pilot program called the DFW Fast Pass.
“It is completely free and they’ll even give you a coupon for lunch, which is great,” he said.
The Fast Pass program is offered in Terminal D, Gate 18. Travelers can reserve a fast pass online, up to seven days in advance. Once you arrive at the security checkpoint, an escort will move you to the front of the line for screening.
The other free international option is the Mobile Passport App, which is a free option for travel to Canada. It allows you to store your passport information ahead of time and bypass customs and immigration kiosks at some U.S airports and cruise terminals.
The five other paid government programs include TSA Precheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST. All have a fee for five years.
Patricia Mancha, spokesperson for Transportation Security Administration, says the goal of these programs is to save time.
“TSA Precheck is the trusted traveler program so we do a quick background check on the people we are enrolled,” she said.
“Once approved, you’ll go through a separate security line at more than 200 US airports without removing your shoes, laptops or liquids.”
Also know that most of these programs require travelers to give out personal information. Erin Ostrowsky, a Southlake resident enrolling for TSA Precheck says the cost of privacy was worth being able to keep up with her frequent flying husband who already has several of these fast passes.
“He goes right through security and I am always at least 15 minutes behind having to wait,” she said. “There’s always a line for me.”
The other programs run by the Customs and Border Protection include Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST.
NEXUS is for those entering the United States and Canada by air, sea or land.
SENTRI is for crossing into the US from Mexico by land.
FAST is for those driving commercial trucks from US, Canada and Mexico.
Elliott recommends Global Entry for most international travelers.
Global Entry includes TSA Pre check. Once you’re approved and pay the fees, you’ll get a fast pass back into the US by air, land, and sea from anywhere. Elliot says it makes sense for you to get Global Entry if you travel two or three times a year internationally.
Private companies like Clear have also set up booths at various airports nationwide.
The service uses biometrics, such as finger printing and eye scan to identify travelers, instead of the driving license. Once approved, you walk through a separate security line to get to the TSA line. This service costs $179 annually.
You can use this tool to figure out what plan is best for you