American airports are pretty much hell on earth this summer, thanks to TSA budget-cutting, understaffing, and added security measures in confluence with a spike in travelers. For most of us, that means longer security lines and lots of stress, particularly if you're already a nervous traveler. But though the TSA chief hasn't been so good at not making both his agency and the airlines look like money-sucking demons, the agency's at least been attempting to mitigate some of the security line misery, and they're pushing eligible travelers to opt for the TSA PreCheck program to speed things along, opening three temporary enrollment centers in the area to make it easier for people to sign up.
PreCheck is an $85 program for US citizens and permanent residents that lasts for 5 years—travelers get to use a special security line at participating airports and through participating airlines, and don't have to remove their shoes, jackets, or laptops, which saves a solid chunk of time. To get approved, you have to first apply through the TSA's program, then make an appointment for an interview at a local center (bring your passport, or driver's license and birth certificate). Right now, the earliest appointments you can get in the city are for August, unless you want to schlep all the way out to an airport, but from July 11 to 29, there'll be a temporary enrollment center at Penn Station in Manhattan. Though you don't seem to be able to make an appointment online, walk-ins are welcome at this center.
If you can travel a little, from July 12 to 16, a center will be set up inside the Hilton Hotel-JFK Airport. Also during that week, there'll be a temporary center at the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott Hotel next to the airport.
Of course, while PreCheck is a big advantage, if you plan to travel overseas a bunch, you might want to opt for Global Entry instead. Global Entry costs $15 more than PreCheck ($100 total), you could wait months for an available interview appointment, and you do have to go to JFK or Newark for your interview—there's an enrollment center at the U.S. Customs House at Bowling Green, but the waits are reportedly horrendous. Still, all this hassle comes with some added bonuses. For one thing, Global Entry automatically makes you eligible for TSA PreCheck, so there's that. You can also expedite customs when you're flying back to the U.S. from overseas, and you don't have to fill out any customs forms—I once nearly lost my passport after filling one of those forms out, so, again, if you're a bundle of nerves when you travel, avoiding this kind of thing can be quite helpful.
Once you land at an international airport, you need only to head to a Global Entry kiosk, where they'll scan your passport and expedite you through the whole shebang. You do need a passport to apply for Global Entry, though considering you need a passport to travel out of the country anyway, you should get one before applying anyway.
Whether you opt for just PreCheck or Global Entry, do note that travelers have had some trouble actually getting the expedited screenings. When you're approved for PreCheck, you have to enter your known traveler number, or KTN, while booking a flight. Make sure you check in at home before your flight if you can, so if your KTN isn't showing up on your boarding pass for some reason, you have extra time to fix it through the airline or TSA. You can also (kindly) tweet at the TSA if you have an issue you need to resolve.