How To Check If TSA PreCheck & CLEAR Lanes Will Be Open (And Other TSA Considerations)

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Between typical summer travel and TSA’s new regulations, airport security lines may be worse than ever. The airlines have been doing their part, sending emails with friendly reminders suggesting that fliers arrive at the airport two hours early, even for domestic flights.

Delta even sent this nifty little graphic, in case you forget to remove your whole pineapple from your carry-on:

Image courtesy of Delta

For many of us, programs like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR can make the difference between a smooth airport experience and a last-minute 800-meter dash with a rollaboard.

But if any of us have ever sprinted through the airport after hitting some unexpected traffic, we know there are few moments worse than the sinking feeling of seeing that our expedited security lines are closed.

And, contrary to what one may think, the hours of operation don’t necessarily correlate with high-traffic hours.

So, straight from the files of “things I wish I’d know when I started traveling” here’s a quick walk-through on how to check the hours of operation – as well as a few other factors to keep in mind with the newer TSA regulations.

(Or, to put it another way, this is how you pre-check the Pre-Check hours, and clear up CLEAR’s schedule.)

As a reminder, CLEAR is a separate and privately-run program, while PreCheck is administered by the TSA. Both have a fee to join, but many credit cards will reimburse you for the cost of applying for Global Entry (which gives you PreCheck access as well):

Cards offering Global EntryFee credit terms
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressStatement credit every four years, authorized users also eligible
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPENStatement credit every four years, authorized users also eligible
Chase Sapphire Reserve®One statement credit per account, every four years
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardOne statement credit per account every four years, and your account must be open and in good standing when the credit is applied.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®One statement credit per account, every five years
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit CardOne statement credit per account, every four years
Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®Primary cardmember will receive one statement credit for the $100 application fee every five years, once the fee is charged to the account
The Expedia®+ Voyager Credit Card from Citi$100 Annual Air Travel Fee Credit can also be used towards application fees for either the Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® programs

Checking the hours of operation for TSA Pre-Check

Fortunately, TSA makes this process fairly easy. You can check the hours of TSA PreCheck at any airport here.

Simply type in the name of the city or airport code, select the day, and select the time range, and voila! There you have it.

Pre-check schedule at JFK – because who travels on Friday nights, anyway?

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this feature gives no indication as to whether they’ll open one lane or ten, so remember that this is a guideline, not gospel.

But having access to a schedule like the one above is can be helpful for planning. Case in point, if you’re looking for the Pre-Check lane at JFK’s Terminal 2 on a Friday night, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Other things to keep in mind

It’s probably also important to note that there are plenty of airlines that don’t participate in the program, so if you’re flying an airline that’s new to you, make sure you double-check this list to see if they participate.

If your new airline does indeed participate in TSA Pre-Check, don’t forget to add your known traveler number to the ticket.

Checking the hours of operation for CLEAR

I wish I could copy/paste a link to CLEAR’s schedule, publish this post, and then walk away. But that would be too easy.

According to two different reps that I’ve talked too, they’ve kind of gone in the direction of underpromising, and have chosen not to publish a schedule because “it changes all the time.”

As much as I’m a fan of their in-airport service, their phone support is a different experience altogether. The quickest way that I’ve found for obtaining their hours of operation at a specific airport is through their web chat, which can be found at the bottom of their website by clicking on this link:

You’ll probably be put in somewhat of a queue, which can be frustrating since the whole process feels very bot-like to begin with, but it should be fairly easy to get an answer to your question once you get logged into an actual chat. I don’t think I’ve ever been on for more than ten minutes, and it’s easy to have the window running in the background while I’m working on other things.

It’s also worth noting that you won’t get an email transcript of your chat, so make sure that you record the information that you need.

What you can check

While CLEAR doesn’t publish their hours, they do publish the terminals out of which they operate.

For example, they operate out of JFK, but only at Terminal 2 (incidentally, there are nights where they are open later than Pre-Check). And they operate at LaGuardia, but only out of terminals C and D.

Other airports, like San Francisco’s SFO and Washington’s DCA, are less Delta-monogamous. As a general rule, I would plan on longer CLEAR lines at any Delta hub city, which is more likely to be filled with Medallion members taking advantage of free or deeply discounted memberships.

As a result, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake, and Seattle are likely to be more congested than other cities.

And according to some of the Delta forums, I’m pretty sure half the city of Atlanta has CLEAR.

Other things to keep in mind

TSA regulations regarding food, powders, and electronics

If you do show up and find that Pre-Check is closed, you may still be eligible for expedited screening, where you can keep your shoes on, although all electronics larger than a cell phone will have to come out. However, if you don’t have access to the Pre-Check line at all and you find yourself experiencing TSA-amnesia (or you just haven’t flown in a while), keep in mind the following:

You can see the latest and great list of what is and isn’t allowed here. (Spoiler alert: antlers are allowed in carry-on bags. Cast iron pans are not.)

For what it’s worth, I flew Icelandair out of Boston last week, which does not participate in TSA Pre-Check. My makeup, KIND Bar, and face lotion all went unnoticed, but my cooking sauce 4-oz bottle of Sheraton-issued white wine didn’t make it. Oops.

In any event, if you know in advance that you won’t have access to the Pre-Check line, it’s probably best to leave yourself a little extra time to play Luggage Tetris.

Keep an eye out for the dreaded “SSSS”

As Ben has previously written, if you see these four letters on your boarding pass, be prepared for some bonus security time, regardless of whether you have Pre-Check or CLEAR. The four letters stand for secondary security screening selection – although we can probably all think of some other “s-words” that better fit the acronym 😉

I had my first experience with this coming home from Iceland earlier this week, along with (seemingly) half of my flight – I think there were about 30 or 40 other people in the “bonus security” area when I was there. I talked to a couple of gate agents who said that they’ve been seeing far more of these recently, and they confirmed that it has everything to do with TSA.

While one airport is still pretty anecdotal, it could be an indication of more of a trend if it’s something that has seen a recent surge.

All that to say that it doesn’t hurt to print your boarding pass in advance, so that you can check for an SSSS before arriving at the airport.

Bottom line

Summer travel and new TSA regulations are a one-two punch that are likely to slow things down, so you may want to plan accordingly. In summary:

  • Check the hours of operation and locations for TSA Pre-Check and CLEAR
  • Print or download your boarding pass in advance, if you can, to check on the status of Pre-Check (and the dreaded SSSS)
  • When in doubt, leave yourself some extra time. I won’t go full-Delta and say that two hours is necessary, depending on where you are flying out of, but it wouldn’t hurt to leave some extra buffer.

Have you noticed a difference with recent TSA experiences? What do you do to avoid the crowds? 

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Comments

  1. “If you do show up and find that Pre-Check is closed, you may still be eligible for expedited screening, where you can keep your shoes on and your laptop in your bag.”

    Please, go on… (Seriously. How might I get expedited screening when Pre-Check is closed?)

  2. On the few occasions that I have been SSSS, my experience has been that when flagged you in fact cannot “print your boarding pass in advance”. As a *A flyer, I recall incidents on both LH and AC when I was flagged (TSA doesn’t like that I occasionally transit IST, apparently), and both times was told by the online check-in system that while I am checked in, I needed to see an airport agent to receive my boarding pass.

    That said, once you know how that system works, you can know when you’re SSSS even without a boarding pass, because you will *not* have a pass when you otherwse expect to have one generated online.

  3. @tda You usually get a colored card at the regular security line after they see that you have PreCheck, which means you can go through the metal detector with shoes and belt on. Basically, you follow the same process that a child or elderly person would get in a regular security line.

  4. @TDA – generally (and like everything with TSA, subject to variability) if you go to a non PreCheck lane or checkpoint with a boarding pass that shows PreCheck, they’ll let you keep your shoes on.

    However – it’s incorrect that you can keep your laptop in a bag in those situations.

  5. That schedule for SAN at least is at best a guideline.
    Been there many times with Pre-check closed when list says it is open.

  6. @M Simon:

    That plus the fact that the bomb-sniffing dog at SAN makes everyone entitled to Pre-check, regardless of whether the lane is officially open or not. And when everyone’s Pre-check – especially inexperienced, slow passengers – then you actually spend more time at TSA than you normally would without it. TSA at SAN is a total clusterf*ck and management there needs a thorough review. Hell, TSA is a disaster in itself, but SAN seems to just exacerbate it. Which is terrible because T2 is so beautiful.

  7. @Steph as of June 1, 2018 Chase’s United Mileage Plus credit card also offers a Global Entry credit.

  8. @AdamR: The TSA at MSP pulls the same stunt. As if a bomb sniffing dog (who is often more interested in the little yellow ball the TSA handler is holding than sniffing people) somehow makes it safe to allow everyone and their uncle who has not been properly vetted to waltz through the TSA lines. The TSA has two clearance points. The one on the south end of the terminal near the Delta counters is smaller and is usually busier, but they don’t tend to use the dog there. The north TSA area at the other end of the terminal (near AA and UA) is much larger and is usually faster except when the dog is in use, which is quite often. In that case, I will trek on down to the south gate and use Clear.

  9. @M Simons: 100% correct. The JFK T4 times are also not exactly right, especially early in the morning when 100 terminal employees are marching through in front of you. YMMV.

  10. I frequently hear going through IST as the main culprit for SSSS. Do you know any other flight patterns that may trigger SSSS? I hope I don’t get SSSS after I visit Istanbul this summer.

  11. hello. i got SSSS once when i was coming home from working abroad for a year. i assume i got it because it was a one-way flight.

  12. Another helpful post, thank you Steph!

    Could you please make CLEAR available at ORD?

    Thanks, you’re the best! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. I got SSSS twice in a row at LHR earlier this year traveling to the USA; connection time sucked because I couldn’t go through TSA-PRE at Chicago (line was better at IAD as there is a dedicated transfer point).

  14. I must be living a very lucky life since I’m based in SAN and haven’t had any problems with TSA either being closed or slow. Never more than five minutes, top. And I go through security there (West Terminal, T2) once or twice a month. All my flights are early morning, not sure if that makes a difference in the length of lines.

  15. The Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card also covers the application fee for Global Entry.

  16. @Bob – Good pickup. Obviously it’s been a minute (or a year) since I’ve had the “expedited screening” quasi Pre-Check option. Incidentally, I just got hit with it about 20 minutes ago at MIA and updated the post to reflect this. For what it’s worth, all electronics larger than a cell phone must now be removed, even with the expedited security card.

  17. @Ryan Yuk – Tough to say – I tried doing some digging here, but the information I could get was anecdotal at best, and dated at worst. What I can tell you is that, on my flight back from Iceland, the demographics of the SSSS line included:

    – Me, but not my husband, who was on the same itinerary
    – Two pre-teen boys, but not their parents
    – Two adult chaperones, and zero of the twenty teenagers that these adults were chaperoning.

    Sorry, don’t know if that’s helpful :-/

  18. @TravelinWilly – Thank you (for your positive comments, and also for thinking I have that kind of pull with CLEAR). ORD is at the top of my list next time they ask 😉

  19. My husband and I both have Global Entry. Two weeks ago we flew. He had TSA precheck. I did not. Thought Global Entry gave me precheck?

  20. Would be very helpful if you guys can write a story on REAL ID, where and when, privacy concerns, and other IDs that will be acceptable (NEXUS, GE, etc.).

  21. Monday, July 16, 2018, Denver – witnessed TSA telling several passengers that they had to throw away non factory wrapped snacks. Occurs to me that Everyone flying out of DIA is being suspected of transporting marijuana baked goods.
    Thanks Governor Hickenlooper & all the ‘no proof of permanent residents’ (don’t have to deal with the consequences) for making flying hell with legalization.

  22. Only ONE entity should be allowed to screen passengers through. TSA. Get “Clear” & other bogus linemakers off the floor. Stop allowing people to PAY to be allowed through unscanned. What’s the point if I show a 311 w/o a fee while traveler “I pay to be entitled” gets onboard hiding something? This flippant incompetence makes flying dismal.

  23. Also, if you’re Pre Check and have a metal implant that then you’re on your own. As the traveling public ages there are more and more hips, shoulders, knees and ankles with metal implants. Be prepared to be tossed to the side and wait for 20+ minutes to get an escort to the regular non Pre Check line to then be told to stand at the end of that line and be treated like every other Tom, Dick and Harry. Empty your carry on of liquids and laptops, remove your shoes and belts and jackets. So show up 3 hours prior to your departure just so you can be sure to run on the plane as they are about to close the doors. This is an atrocity. So many major airports don’t use body scanners at TSA Pre Check – only those prehistoric metal detectors – you know the ones that came out before that MD 80 you’re about to board.

  24. @rcooksc:

    You may want to check your frequent flier profile with the airline. If you’re Known Traveler Number (KTN – essentially your Global Entry number) is incorrect or absent, then you’ll never get TSA Pre-check because the airline and TSA cross-reference that number and other data in your profile when booking and issuing tickets/boarding passes to ensure you’ve had the proper vetting in the appropriate systems. I had the same problem with Southwest for about 6 months. Somehow Southwest had added leading zeros (may’ve been other characters, I forget) to my KTN so I was never getting TSA Pre-check. Had to call them to fix it and haven’t had a problem since.

  25. @rcooksc:

    You may want to check your frequent flier profile with the airline. If your Known Traveler Number (KTN – essentially your Global Entry number) is incorrect or absent, then you’ll never get TSA Pre-check because the airline and TSA cross-reference that number and other data in your profile when booking and issuing tickets/boarding passes to ensure you’ve had the proper vetting in the appropriate systems. I had the same problem with Southwest for about 6 months. Somehow Southwest had added leading zeros (may’ve been other characters, I forget) to my KTN so I was never getting TSA Pre-check. Had to call them to fix it and haven’t had a problem since.

  26. They have been pulling the ‘everyone is precheck’ trick at SFO a lot lately. Very frustrating. Long lines and people still have no clue what to do after they file past the dog.

  27. Whenever PreCheck is closed I’ve voiced that I’m PreCheck in the regular line and I’ve never had issues with the agents complying to it. Always with a Good Morning/Afternoon, how are you doing? I noticed your PreCheck isn’t open yet, would it be possible…? Being nice to the agents goes really far. Plus I usually go for full body scan because I have metallic prosthesis in my spine so I think that makes it easier for me (less harassing)

  28. Couldn’t check in online with United out of YYZ last week and thought it was strange. Got to the airport and printed my boarding pass with the SSSS.

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