Getting through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the travel experience. Slow lines, grouchy TSA agents and borderline violations of privacy are just some of the joys you can hope to experience on your next trip to the airport. However, there are some ways to make this process less painful, so here are are picks on the top 10 ways to get through airport security faster.
1. Elite Status: One of the best ways to get through airport security faster is by having elite status. Most airlines allow at least their mid-tier and high-tier elites to access the priority security lines. This benefit is usually extended to any companions traveling with the elite member, so it can’t hurt to try and bring them along with you. Passengers having any one of the following elite status are eligible for this benefit:
Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
US Airways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
Alaska: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members
Jetblue: TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats
Virigin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members
2. Fly Premium Class: In addition to allowing those with elite status to enter the priority security lanes, those flying in First or Business class are also allowed to use these lanes. Some airports, such as Honolulu, will put a stamp on your boarding pass when you check-in that will allow those seated in a premium class to use the faster security lines. Some airports even have their own terminal for first class or business class passengers. Delta has this at Terminal 2 at JFK for their Sky Priority customers, and of course Lufthansa has their First Class Terminal in Frankfurt where the security screening process is almost instantaneous.
3. TSA Pre-Check: The TSA risk-based screening initiative, TSA Pre-Check, started in October 2011. The goal of this initiative is to test modified screening procedures for selected passengers traveling through certain security checkpoints within the U.S. Customers with certain elite status levels as well as members of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS Trusted Traveler programs who are U.S. citizens may be eligible to participate in this pilot program. Eligible members must opt-in to be considered for Pre-Check. Members may opt in by updating and saving their Secure Flight Passenger Data, or by adding their Trusted Traveler / Membership Number / PassID (for Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS members) in the Known Traveler field in the Secure Flight section on airlines’ sites. The great thing if you are selected is you don’t have to take your shoes, belt, or jacket off and you can leave laptop computers in the bag. This can be a big time saver, but since it’s random, there is no guarantee passengers will get it, even if you are enrolled. Depending on the check point, this is only available for passengers flying on Delta, United, American, U.S. Airways and Alaska Airlines. This is currently available at over 20 of the nation’s busiest airports and new locations are continuing to be added each month.
4. Ask Nicely: This can actually go a lot further than you might think. Most often, the agents manning the priority security lines are independent airport contract workers and sometimes even TSA agents. Rarely is it the actual airlines’ employees since their time can be spent better at the check-in areas or the gates. Whether it is because you are cutting your time too short and your flight is starting to board or if you are traveling with small children, they just might send you through the priority line. It can’t hurt to ask!
5. CLEAR: This is an innovative program that helps travelers zip through airport security using the biometric CLEARcard. The standard unlimited annual pricing plan is $179 (not worth it unless you are based in one of their cities and fly a lot). The current locations of CLEAR are at Denver International Airport (DEN), Orlando International Airport (MCO), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW). With the limited number of locations, and since it really is just a front of the line benefit, I couldn’t justify the annual fee – I think TSA PreCheck is much better.
6. American Airlines Flagship Check-In: Another good way to speed up your time at airport security is with American’s flagship service. In addition to the customer service representatives who personally assist with your individual check-in and travel requirements including baggage check, seating, itinerary changes, there is a designated premium security line with expedited access. To take advantage of Flagship Check-in service you must fall into one of the following groups: Five Star Service passengers, ConciergeKey members (those who pay $125+ for VIP services), those traveling first class onboard an international American or British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas flight anywhere in your outbound itinerary, and first class passengers on an American three-class transcontinental aircraft between MIA and LAX, and from LAX to JFK. The two current locations of this are at Los Angeles and now at Miami, though American says it will be rolling out to future locations this year. At Miami especially, this can save a ton of time since there are so many AA elites based here, and even the elite line can take 20+ minutes.
7. Selectively choose your security line: Many airports have multiple entries into the airport. If you see a huge line at one checkpoint, try another. Educate yourself on the options at your home airport. Many airports have connected terminals once through security, so you can sometimes save time by entering a further security checkpoint and then transiting once in the terminal.
8. Dress appropriately and know what, how and when to take certain items off and put them back on: Have your ID ready when approaching the TSA agent right before going through screening. Remove shoes (try to leave your thigh-high lace-up boots at home!), belts and everything in your pockets before entering the screening technology and put your shoes directly on the belt to go through the X-ray machine instead of in a bin with other items. Tip: I like to put my wallet, phone and any other loose items in a coat or jacket pocket so I can throw it on once through security. Another tip: you don’t need to take off most jewelry. I always see people taking off watches, but I never have and they haven’t set off metal detectors. Take your laptop out and put it in a bin (there are some laptop-friendly cases in which your computer doesn’t even have to come out). iPads, cameras and other devices can stay in your bag. Take your liquids out of your bag and place them in a clear plastic bag (seriously, double check to make sure your water bottle isn’t in your bag- it delays the whole line when they have to re-run your bag). The TSA recommends the 3-1-1 approach. Once through the screener, take your belongings and either move them down the lane or try to reassemble yourself at a nearby bench. Trying to do everything at the belt slows everything down, so do your best to keep the movement going even though it can be stressful trying to reclaim your items and put your shoes and belt back on.
9. Adjust approach for children and seniors: Infants and children need to be taken out of baby carriers and strollers before they can go through the metal detector. Strollers and baby carriers can go through the X-ray machine with your bags. If possible, collapse the stroller before arriving at the metal detector. Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening. For seniors, modified screening measures allow passengers 75 and older to leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints. Seniors can also undergo an additional pass through Advanced Imaging Technology to clear any anomalies detected during screening. Check out our earlier post about Tips for Traveling with a Mobility-Challenged Person for even more advice.
10. Don’t be an idiot: While you may disagree with TSA procedures, snarky responses and rude behavior to front-line employees are not going to make a change in policy. Like it or not, TSA agents actually have a decent amount of power, so if you try to make stupid jokes or give them a hard time, you won’t only hold up the process for yourself, but for everyone behind you as well.