Airport security is a nightmare right now, but these programs can help

12:00 a.m. Saturday, May 21, 2016 Travel

If you’re planning to fly in the near future, we’ve got bad news. A combination of Transportation Security Administration cutbacks, tightened security procedures and surging passenger numbers has caused wait times at security checkpoints across the country to spike drastically, with some airports advising passengers to arrive as many as three hours early to avoid missing their flights.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is not immune to this national trend. Airport spokesman Derick Hackett said that because of the TSA delays and an increase in spring and summer traffic passengers are currently being advised to arrive to the airport at least two hours early during peak travel times (5-8 a.m., 11 a.m.–1 p.m., 3:30-5:30 p.m.) and 90 minutes early at other times.

“We want to make sure our summer travelers don’t miss their flights,” Hackett said.

There are a few things you can do to avoid those long, snaking lines at security checkpoints. U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers several Trusted Traveler programs that allow pre-approved travelers who are considered low risk to received expedited services. Most are offered at Austin-Bergstrom, including TSA Pre-Check, which launched here in January.

Here’s some information about the available programs:

TSA PRE-CHECK

What is it? TSA Pre-Check offers expedited security screening to pre-approved, low-risk travelers. It can be used for both domestic and international flights. It’s available at Austin-Bergstrom and more than 160 other U.S. airports.

How do you get it? Fill out an online application, then make an appointment at an application center, where you’ll appear in person to present your U.S. passport (or driver’s license) and birth certificate and be fingerprinted. There’s also an $85 application fee.

How does it work once you’re approved? Once approved, you’ll be given a “known traveler number” (“KTN”) to use when making flight reservations. Participating airlines, which include most of the major ones, will indicate your Pre-Check status on your boarding pass, which will allow you to go through expedited Pre-Check security lines. Pre-Check travelers may also leave their shoes, belts and jackets on and do not have to remove laptops or small liquids from their luggage.

Who should use it? The program is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents. Family members 12 and under traveling with a Pre-Check-approved parent or guardian may also receive expedited screening. Family members 13 or up must go through standard security lines or apply for Pre-Check themselves. There are no age restrictions on applying for Pre-Check services.

Info: tsa.gov/tsa-precheck

GLOBAL ENTRY

What is it? Global Entry gives pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance when arriving from international destinations. It’s available at Austin-Bergstrom and dozens of other U.S. airports.

How do you get it? Travelers must undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before they can be enrolled in the program. There’s also a $100 application fee.

How does it work once you’re approved? If you’re a program member landing in the U.S., you can skip the customs line and go directly to a Global Entry kiosk. There, you’ll present a passport or U.S. permanent resident card, put your fingerprints on the scanner for verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk will give you a transaction receipt and direct you to baggage claim and the exit.

Who should use it? This program is best for people who travel internationally on a regular basis.

Info: cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry

MORE OPTIONS

If you travel frequently between the U.S. and Canada, consider the NEXUS program, which expedites processing between the two countries. If you travel often between the U.S. and Mexico, try SENTRI.

Learn more about all of these programs at cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs.