Mary Alsop travels a good bit in the pharmaceutical sales business, so anything that speeds her way through the airport helps.
To sign up
Go online to www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck for pre-enrollment to set up an appointment at the newly opened application center in the Lowcountry. Walk-ins are accepted, but there could be a wait.
The temporary enrollment site until March 16 is at Coastal Glass Business Center, 3025 Ashley Phosphate Road, Unit B2-B in North Charleston. The permanent site opening March 17 will be at 1954 Ashley River Road in Charleston.
The application center is open 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information, call 855-347-8371 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays or go to www.TSA.gov/tsa-precheck/application-program.
Under a new pre-clearance program of the Transportation Security Administration now available for sign-up in Charleston, Alsop and a growing list of other Americans - now up to nearly 63,000 - don't have to wait in line to go through security anymore.
"I'm grateful for it," said Alsop of Raleigh, as she passed through the TSA checkpoint Wednesday at Charleston International Airport. "I'm grateful for the security, and I'm grateful when they can check my background through an application and make it easier for me. We are getting smarter, not harder with this."
Under the TSA pre-check program, approved passengers can leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt; keep their laptop in its case; and keep compliant-size liquids and gels in carry-on bags if they pay $85 to enroll. It's good for five years for travel in the U.S.
For $100, low-risk passengers can get global pre-check approval, but certification sites are available only in larger metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Atlanta.
The money pays for background checks, staff and overhead. Private contractor Morpho Trust handles the program for the TSA.
U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can pre-enroll online at www.TSA.gov, make an appointment and complete their enrollment at the newly opened local application center to verify their identity, present two forms of documentation to confirm their citizenship/immigration status and provide fingerprints.
Approved passengers will receive a Known Traveler Number, or KTN, by mail two to three weeks after visiting the certification center. The number can be used when buying tickets by phone, online or at travel agencies. The boarding pass will indicate "pre-check" for those enrolled in the program, allowing the passenger to zip through security.
People convicted of certain serious federal and state crimes will not be allowed to pre-enroll. Active-duty military members can use their Department of Defense-issued identification number instead of a KTN.
"We are getting away from a one-size-fits-all for security," said Mark Howell, TSA spokesman.
When a passenger arrives at Charleston International, a TSA officer checks the ticket to make sure the traveler is enrolled in pre-check by checking the boarding pass. If not, he directs them to the regular security lanes. The pre-check passenger, with ID, then presents the boarding pass to another TSA officer, who scans it.
"That's to make sure nobody tries to get through without being pre-checked," said Debbie Engel, TSA federal security director for Charleston.
The traveler then puts any carry-on bags through the screening machine, walks through the screen like everyone else, picks up his belongings and heads to the boarding gate.
The TSA fast-lane isn't open all day in Charleston, only at peak periods of travel and depending on staffing levels, Engel said. When it's not open, the traveler must wait in line like everyone else, but they won't have to take off their shoes or do any of the other things that non-pre-check passengers will.
"When you are running late, it is really beneficial," said Jane Myer, a pre-check traveler who splits her time between Kiawah Island and Philadelphia.
"It saves you time," said Thomas Armstrong of Connecticut, who was visiting a relative in Charleston. "If it is an airport with long lines, it can be tough, especially if you are with a family. This is a lot easier."
Pre-check lanes are now in service at 115 U.S. airports and on nine major airlines. All of the airlines serving Charleston are part of the program, airport spokeswoman Becky Beaman said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.