What Does the TSA Look for in a Background Check?

mother and little daughter walking in the airport


Keeping You and the TSA Happy

If you like to keep your family on the move (and in the air), you might be sick and tired of waiting through the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) screening lines at the airport. No matter how thoroughly you master the TSA security process, it's still a pain, and you'd probably rather streamline your airport experience.

The TSA's PreCheck program lets you do this: It expedites your security screening by placing you in a special PreCheck security line and not requiring you to remove your shoes, laptop, liquids, belt or jacket. But you have to apply for the program first, and as part of the application process, the TSA will put you through a background check.

After you've filled out the application materials for PreCheck and been conditionally approved online, you'll have to come in for a 10-minute in-person interview. During your interview, the TSA will look into your background, employment history and travel habits. The agency will also collect your fingerprints and take a photo of you.

Be prepared to answer simple questions such as the following:

  • What's your employment status?
  • What's your employment history?
  • Why do you want to join the PreCheck program?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever broken a customs or immigration law?
  • Have you ever transported something with unknown contents?
  • What's your travel history?
  • How do you usually travel?
  • Are you a legal U.S. resident?

Keep in mind that you will have already answered all these questions on your preliminary application material. People who have been through the process say if you've been called in for an interview, you're as good as approved.

Even so, be prepared. If you've been arrested but had the charges dropped, dig up the documentation to back it. If you traveled to Cuba when doing so was restricted, but you went for humanitarian reasons, have proof on-hand. If you were convicted of a low-level crime at some point, make sure you know if it was an infraction or a misdemeanor. That said, if you've been convicted of a misdemeanor, you might not want to waste your time—the TSA says it'll reject anyone who has such convictions, who has violated customs or immigration regulations or who is being investigated by law enforcement.

Otherwise, the interview should be a piece of cake, with the exception of potentially sitting around for a while in the waiting room.

If PreCheck's benefits sound useful to you and your family, kids and adults ages 13 and up will each have to go through the application and interview process. Kids ages 12 and younger are free to jump in the PreCheck line with you when you go through security. Memberships cost $85 and last for five years.

PreCheck is actually just one of the TSA's trusted traveler programs. The agency offers several higher levels of programs, each of which also includes the PreCheck security benefits. Those levels each have their own requirements for documentation required for the interview and their own age restrictions, so if you're interested in a higher tier of PreCheck, make sure you and your family members have everything to apply.