Infrequent flyers can now sign up in Bluffton for TSA PreCheck

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The line for PreCheck passengers is considerably shorter at the Savannah Airport on the morning of July 27. PAM GALLAGHER

According to the Transportation Security Administration's latest data, in July, 94 percent of passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck waited less than five minutes to clear airport security lines.

Because my last flight was nearly 11 years ago, in late June I submitted an online application at tsa.gov/precheck and made an appointment at what was then the closest enrollment center - in Garden City, Ga., a 45-minute drive from Bluffton.

Documents in hand - in my case, driver's license, raised-seal birth certificate from the state of New Jersey, and a court order granting me use of my maiden name after my divorce - the 10-minute appointment included fingerprinting and background check and an $85 fee.

Within a week, a letter from TSA arrived with my KTN (Known Traveler Number), good for five years from the date of enrollment.

I provided it when checking in for my nonstop, roundtrip flights on Frontier Airlines between Savannah and Denver in late July and early August.

My traveling companion, a friend who had once worked as a volunteer ambassador at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, had no plans to enroll in the program. She'd been fingerprinted for her position at the airport and flown as recently as December, when she was waved through TSA lines.

TSA acknowledges that some passengers, particularly seniors such as myself and my friend, receive the expedited screening, where they don't have to take off shoes, belts or jackets or remove laptops and liquids from carry-ons, without enrolling in PreCheck. However, there are no guarantees.

So, when Frontier Airlines announced it had partnered with TSA to make travel easier, and my friend learned that she could enroll via security firm IDEMIA at Staples in Bluffton, she did so on her lunch hour just two days before our trip.

Although she was not issued a KTN in time for our departure, we each breezed through TSA PreCheck in Savannah on July 27.

Staples in Bluffton is now among 50 TSA enrollment centers inside Staples stores nationwide. Enrollment centers, including the one I used in Garden City, offer appointments with TSA-approved agents as well as walk-in service, but appointments are given priority. Some credit card and airline loyalty programs allow waiver of the $85 fee, which amounts to $17 per year.

Successful enrollment in TSA PreCheck doesn't always guarantee expedited screening. My friend and I were each asked to remove our shoes as we moved through TSA lines at Denver International Airport at around 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 6. According to its website, TSA uses unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout airports. All travelers are screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.

IDEMIA will be rolling out mobile enrollment centers nationally in RVs at MLB and NFL games this fall, just in time for the busy holiday travel season.

Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.

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