TSA Pre-Check Line Closed? You Still Have Hope w/Pre-Check Lite

TSA Pre-Check can make your travels a lot more efficient and stress-free but sometimes you are forced to deal with the disappointment of finding the TSA Pre-Check line closed.

But you might still have hope of getting through security relatively stress-free with some of your Pre-Check benefits via Pre-Check Lite and in this article I’ll explain how it works. I’ll also give you some alternatives to consider to better deal with line closures.

TSA Pre-Check refresher

Just in case you need a quick refresher on what TSA Pre-Check is and what the benefits are, here you go.

TSA Pre-Check is a program that costs $78 to join and allows approved passengers to go through a separate security screening process that is less demanding than the security screening open to the public.

Once you pass the background check and are approved, your membership will be good for five years.

TSA Pre-Check allows you to pass through a traditional metal detector (as opposed to the invasive full-body scanners) and you also get to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Shoes can stay on
  • Belt can stay on
  • Light jackets can stay on
  • Laptops allowed to stay in bag
  • Liquids (3-1-1 Rule) can stay in bag

When security lines are backed up the program can save you a good amount of time. (However, sometimes the TSA Pre-Check can also get backed up which can cause delays.)

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Why do TSA Pre-Check lines close?

There are a couple of reasons why the TSA Pre-Check lines might close.

If you are headed to the airport very early in the morning (before the airport truly opens) or late in the evening, there may not be TSA Pre-Check lines open.

This is because they sometimes shut down when there is very little traffic at the airport which happens when the first/last flights are going out or taking off.

Sometimes the lines can be closed at random times. This could be due to some type of shortage of staff members or some other type of operational issue.

You can always check the online schedule to see what TSA Pre-Check checkpoints are open. The problem is that sometimes this website does not accurately show the hours and there is even a disclaimer for that.

The TSA website states:

TSA PreCheck® hours are subject to change based on operational needs. TSA incorporates unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no passenger is guaranteed expedited screening.

Related: How Early Should You Get to the Airport?

What happens when TSA Pre-Check lines close?

If a dedicated line for TSA Pre-Check is not open then there are probably two different outcomes you can expect.

TSA Pre-Check Lite

TSA Pre-Check Lite is a term used to describe when you get some or all of the TSA Pre-Check privileges but you still go through the standard security line.

How it works is that when you show your TSA Pre-Check marked boarding pass to the TSA agent, the agent will hear a special trio of beeps or simply see Pre-Check marked on your airline ticket.

At that point they should issue you some sort of laminated piece of paper or a card that shows that you are TSA Pre-Check (some airports even use little dividers for your luggage like at grocery stores).

Note that sometimes the agent may not be paying close attention to your boarding pass and not issue you what you need for TSA Pre-Check Lite.

If you do not receive any type of document indicating your TSA Pre-Check status, try to quickly mention that you have TSA Pre-Check to the screening agent.

Once you make your way through security, you will hand over your card/paper.

This card does NOT typically give you priority in the security line, so you will not hop to the front of the line. At least not in my experience. (Some travelers have been escorted to the front of the line in the past.)

TSA Pre-Check Lite allows you to retain some (or all) of the TSA Pre-Check benefits. Often, the benefits that you get to retain are listed on the piece of paper you receive, perhaps in some type of checklist format.

Once again here are the benefits to look out for:

  • Shoes can stay on
  • Belt can stay on
  • Light jackets can stay on
  • Laptops allowed to stay in bag
  • Liquids can stay in bag

If your benefits are not spelled out for you then you can ask the TSA agent what rules apply or simply just assume that you have the normal TSA Pre-Check benefits (it’s much better to ask for clarification, IMO).

When going through the standard security line you may have to go through the full body scanner instead of a metal detector although often the standard line also has a metal detector open for TSA Pre-Check Lite.

It’s worth pointing out some report that the metal detectors are more sensitive for the general security line.

This means that your watch or shoes may NOT set off a metal detector when going through TSA Pre-Check but that they WILL set off the metal detector when going through the standard security line.

This might be true based on my experience because my belt has set off the metal detector during TSA Pre-Check Lite and it never goes off for TSA Pre-Check.

As for what benefits you can expect to retain, it varies.

In some situations in the past, I was only allowed to keep my shoes, belt, and jacket on but still had to remove my electronics and liquids.

One time I only had to remove my liquids. And other times, I’ve received all of the TSA Pre-Check benefits.

The inconsistencies can make things pretty confusing and to make matters worse the TSA agents can be impatient and act as if you should know this stuff.

I’m not sure who makes the call or if there will ever be a universal approach to this procedure so just be ready for anything and pay close attention to what your card says.

Go through normal security

Sometimes you won’t be issued TSA Pre-Check Lite and you will simply have to go through security just like everybody else. In my experience, this is a pretty rare occurrence but it does still happen from time to time.

TSA Pre-Check Lite card

Alternatives when the TSA Pre-Check line is closed

If the TSA Pre-Check line is closed you have a couple of different solutions that can help you out.

The CLEAR solution

It can really help to have CLEAR in situations where you get stuck in the standard security line.

CLEAR is a special service available at 50+ airports nationwide that allows you to jump ahead of the line whether you are in the standard TSA security checkpoint line or if you have TSA Pre-Check.

It works by obtaining your biometric data such as scans of your fingerprint, eyes, or facial features and storing them in an encrypted manner. It then verifies your identity by matching your biometrics with its database every time you visit the airport.

It’s one of the best ways to save a lot of time when flying on busy days since even the TSA Pre-Check line can get long. CLEAR also offers expedited entry into select stadiums around the US. You can read more about CLEAR here.

The alternative terminal solution

Another solution is to simply go through a different airport terminal.

This may require you to do a fair amount of walking or perhaps figuring out your logistics on the fly so it’s not for everybody. In some cases, it may just be easier to go through the standard security line.

But if you are familiar with an airport, then a lot of times it’s pretty easy to just enter through a different terminal and connect to the terminal you need to get through.

Final word

Arriving at the airport only to find the TSA Pre-Check lines closed can be pretty frustrating. Luckily, in a lot of cases you can still get the TSA Pre-Check benefits by receiving a card that grants you TSA Pre-Check Lite. You may or may not receive the full privileges you would be entitled to but you should still receive enough to help you get through security.

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