In this article I’ll talk about priority lanes that we as military servicemembers can take advantage of – the TSA Precheck lane and the priority boarding lane at the gate. As you may have read on this blog several times before, solely having a military CAC card can get you access to the TSA precheck security lane at the following 10 airports:
• Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI): D Checkpoint
• Charlotte Douglas International (CLT): Main Terminal, Checkpoint B
• Denver International (DEN): South Checkpoint
• Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL): Main Checkpoint, North Checkpoint
• Honolulu International (HNL): Main Terminal, Checkpoint 3
• Lambert-St. Louis International (STL): Terminal C Checkpoint
• Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA): North Pier Gates 35-45, South Pier Gates 10-22
• Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA): Checkpoint 3
• Ted Stevens Anchorage (ANC): South Terminal
• Washington Dulles International (IAD): Main Terminal, TSA Pre ✓™ Checkpoint
This is great for these airports because in addition to often shorter lines, it means not having to remove your shoes, belt, jacket, or laptop from your carryon. There are currently 97 airports domestically with a TSA precheck option, so hopefully they’ll be expanding the CAC card-only precheck areas. A list of the 97 airports can be found here. But wait, it gets better! There have been several instances, always in my home airport of PHL but also always in LAS, where when I’ve showed the TSA agent my boarding pass along with my CAC card, they have had me and my family go through the first-class security lane, saving us tons of time. I encourage you to always show your CAC card to the TSA agent to see if this works. But there is a way to be able to reliably access the TSA precheck lane in all 97 airports, all the time, for free.
Global Entry is a program run by the US Customs and Border Protection that lets you breeze through customs on incoming international flights, and as part of their program if you’re approved for global entry you automatically get approved for TSA precheck. Global entry costs $100 for the interview and processing, but there are ways to get that fee refunded. (TPG has a great article for more specifics on it). The fee is refunded for United Platinum and above elite classes, which can be hard to attain if you (like me) don’t fly very often. But the other way to get it refunded is by paying for it with your American Express Platinum card (non affiliate link), either personal or business. And although any platinum card comes with a $450 annual fee, as I’ve written before, Amex waives annual fees for all military personnel. So you would be getting both your Global Entry Trusted Traveller number, which is a huge time and headache saver when travelling internationally, and your TSA precheck privileges when flying domestically, for free. Note that the Global Entry card is good for five years.
Once you are at your boarding area and are preparing to board, make sure you listen overhead to the boarding categories. They will often call “active duty military” as a priority boarding category. If you are in uniform, every major domestic carrier will let you board in the first group. However, it is less clear if you are not in uniform. After searching online and then also calling the major domestic carriers’ customer service numbers, it is unfortunately still not clear what the official policy is regarding priority boarding for servicemembers not in uniform. However, I will say this – unless you are in a city with a large military population, such as San Diego or San Antonio, they will often let you in the priority lane without being in uniform. I have success with this every single time in both PHL and LAS, and recently it also worked for me in FLL and ATL. Even once when a gate agent at LAS said I needed to be in uniform, they still let me and my family through. I personally don’t feel as though priority boarding is a huge perk, unless you’re worried about not being able to find overhead space or you have a small child (like me) that you want to get settled. However, a perk is a perk. I’d be curious to hear your experiences with TSA and with priority boarding.