Wheelchair users who are members of the TSA PreCheck trusted traveler program receive an expedited and less invasive security screening at airports in the United States. I have been reluctant to write about this policy out of fear it may be abused, but a recent CNN article has brought it to light, and I will now share it with you.
The standard security screening of wheelchair users consists of a full body pat-down and an inspection of the wheelchair itself, including seat cushions, pouches and any attachments.
Passengers who sign-up for TSA PreCheck are offered an expedited screening that excludes the pat-down. A quick, cursory inspection of the wheelchair will take place, and the passengers hands will be swabbed for traces of explosive material. The typical PreCheck inspection of a wheelchair user takes less than a minute, whereas the standard inspection often takes 5 minutes or more, and requires the passenger to submit to a pat-down.
Given that a power wheelchair has many crevices and places to hide things, I have wondered if the “look over” of my chair goes far enough. In order to protect the convenience for myself, I have not written about this benefit of PreCheck until now. I appreciate the “speed screening” that I am able to receive. My security concerns may be irrelevant, though, due to the background check required for PreCheck enrollment.
How to sign-up for TSA PreCheck
For U.S. citizens, there are two primary avenues for gaining PreCheck status: signing-up for PreCheck directly, or by joining Global Entry. I recommend the latter, but will describe both options here.
To apply for PreCheck, access the online application at https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/apply. You’ll complete the online application, then schedule an appointment at one of the application centers (typically located at large airports). At the application center, you’ll need to pay the $85 fee (good for 5 years of PreCheck membership), undergo fingerprinting, and submit adequate identification. A list of acceptable documentation is available at the link above. Once you have completed these steps, the government will perform an extensive background check to determine if you can be trusted. In general, a previous arrest is likely to result in the denial of your application.
Global Entry is a program administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that offers all the benefits of PreCheck, plus expedited screening at passport control and customs when re-entering the United States from an international trip. I am a member of GlobalEntry, and have received TSA PreCheck on all of my flight itineraries since becoming member. To apply for Global Entry, visit the CBP website and fill out an application through the GOES system. You will be responsible for paying a $100 non-refundable application fee when submitting online. Your application will be reviewed, and a background check will be performed. If you pass the background check, you’ll be conditionally approved and requested to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center (typically located at international airports). At the interview, you’ll present your passport, be fingerprinted, and asked some fact-checking questions. From the Global Entry website, you can be rejected if you:
- Provide false or incomplete information on the application;
- Have been convicted of any criminal offense or have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants (to include driving under the influence);
- Have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country;
- Are the subject of an ongoing investigation by any federal, state or local law enforcement agency;
- Are inadmissible to the United States under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation; or
- Cannot satisfy CBP of your low-risk status.
Both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are trusted traveler programs, and membership signifies that the U.S. Government trusts you not to violate any laws governing travel, imports or exports. You are viewed as a “safe” traveler, and thus become eligible for expedited screening at airport security, border control and at customs. With membership, you can say good-bye to invasive pat-downs and hour-long lines at security and passport control.
I recommend TSA PreCheck for any disabled traveler (and especially wheelchair users) who plan to travel by air more than once per year. The investment is worth not only the time savings, but also the hassles and embarrassment of the pat-down screening. Your membership restores some of the dignity that we all sacrifice when traveling in those cramped metal tubes called airplanes.
Are you a member of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?
How has membership affected your air travel experience?