For the longest time: Delta had me running the gauntlet as Precheck. Today we were demoted to the standard inspection. The airline representative indicated that the decision was driven by TSA and has been applied to a number of passengers.

Given that TSA has incentive (they are resource constrained) to expedite travelers as Pre-Check, what possible cause would they have to revert Pre-Check passengers to standard status?

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    Have you paid the Pre-Check program fees and gone through that prescreening interview process?
    – WBT
    May 10, 2019 at 18:58
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    It's not entirely clear whether you just happened to be getting "upgraded" to TSA Pre-Check a lot and now you didn't on a recent flight or if you were actually part of the Pre-Check program and happened to get downgraded this time.
    – Herohtar
    May 10, 2019 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


The TSA is explicit.

If I am TSA Pre✓® eligible, am I guaranteed expedited screening?

No, TSA uses unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.

Officially, the airline does not choose which passengers receive expedited screening or not; this is a function of TSA's algorithms. Part of that algorithm will randomly send Pre-check passengers through for regular screening.

The whys should be self-evident (at least, from the viewpoint of a security bureaucrat). Trusted traveler programs are not a guarantee that some traveler is not a threat, or is not carrying items that could be used to harm passengers or the aircraft, so you still need to do spot checks. You also don't want people to start thinking Pre-check is some sort of badge of trustworthiness that now exempts them from carry-on restrictions, or other rules.

The TSA does not have a strong incentive to expedite travelers. They are a government agency, and if anything, they can make the case to Congress for more funding to increase headcount more easily if long lines are in the news.

  • 2
    Agreed. Over the last few years I have regularly got a "free" TSA pre-check. However last year it was not on my ticket, but re-appeared again at Christmas which supports the idea of just a random extra check. Fingers-crossed for my next flight.
    – Dragonel
    May 10, 2019 at 17:59
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    My impression was that the random free TSA pre-check was kind of a marketing thing to let people experience it and thus decide they want to pay for it.
    – Herohtar
    May 10, 2019 at 19:21
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    TSA does charge a fee to apply and be approved for Pre-Check. That is like a class-of-service. Not having a guaranteed expedited screening and the why of it is orthogonal to the question (IMO) which was, why would TSA 'demote' a PreCheck traveler. Where the OP seemingly felt like a class of service was taken away from them. I think the key here is that it was Airline offered vs TSA process whetted. May 10, 2019 at 21:28
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    @perennial_noob That is just not how it works. You sign up for Pre-check and go through the screening, but it's still theoretically possible that you could be required to go through standard screening every single time you fly and you would have no legal recourse— nothing was promised, and nothing has been taken away; no "demotion" has taken place. It behooves one to read the fine print, and in this case, the print isn't especially fine, it's there right with a red alert icon on the Pre-check homepage.
    – choster
    May 10, 2019 at 21:56
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    @choster - no disputes at all. You are answering the question of 'is there a guarantee', not why would TSA want to 'demote' a status. The answer lies more around what the deal was between the airline and TSA (because the OP learned from the airline that TSA had something to do with it). And inferring further, the actual TSA Pre-Check line still existed and was being used. As a PreCheck I have been told that the scanner doesn't work or we have to empty pockets like everyone. (Just that your line upto that point was faster.) So I know of it. Just that it is orthogonal to the root concern of OP. May 10, 2019 at 22:01

Given that TSA has incentive (they are resource constrained) to expedite travelers as Pre-Check, what possible cause would they have to revert Pre-Check passengers to standard status?

There is a good deal of consternation among people who have paid for it that people are sometimes given Pre-Check without having paid anything for the privilege. A bill to stop the TSA from doing that even passed the House of Representatives last year. Perhaps the TSA has quietly restricted the criteria for inclusion of passengers who haven't paid for the privilege.

  • 2
    It wasn't exactly quiet. TSA has openly said in recent years that travelers who were not part of the Precheck program (or an equivalent that grants access, like Global Entry or a DOD ID card number) will be increasingly less likely to receive its benefits. To consistently receive Precheck, you have to enroll. May 10, 2019 at 20:55
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    This is the more pertinent answer IMO because it seems like Delta offered this privilege but TSA has no incentive to honor it any more because they have their own application process and each application is ~$80 to $100 (only TSA-Pre or Global Entry) May 10, 2019 at 21:31
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    @ZachLipton thanks. I was looking for something that actually said that, and didn't find anything, which is why I said "quietly." If you can point me in the right direction, I'll gladly edit the answer.
    – phoog
    May 10, 2019 at 22:53
  • @phoog I think the term they use is "managed inclusion." This seems to say it's still happening to some extent, but less often than before. May 11, 2019 at 0:19
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    The ~$100 fee is dwarfed by the larger $$ issue of manpower / equipment and the political embarrassment caused by missed flights and 3-hour lines
    – gatorback
    May 12, 2019 at 3:53

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