By Rachael Funk
One of the worst parts of travel is getting through the airport. Nothing can decimate your goodwill toward man quite like getting stuck behind someone who is acting like they’ve never been here before. Lucky for you, you’ve got these expert tips to get through the TSA line and through your pre-boarding boredom without undue stress or frustration.
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Sign up for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
The easiest way to avoid long lines at TSA and customs is to enroll in the Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck programs. Though enrolling in the programs do require a membership fee, certain credit cards come with travel benefits which include refunding those expenses. TSA PreCheck provides expedited security screening benefits for flights leaving from airports in the United States, and Global Entry provides the same TSA screening benefits as well as faster US customs screening for international air travelers who are entering the United States. To figure out what program is right for you, check out Homeland Security’s rundown of available Trusted Traveler Programs
Slip-on shoes and sweaters that are easy to get in and out of will be lifesavers when it’s your turn to step up to the scanner. If you can, wait until after you’ve cleared security to put on your jewelry, belt, watch, etc. for the day. Jackets with big pockets are helpful so you can easily throw your keys, wallet, and phone into pockets, then clear the area to reorganize yourself before you proceed to your gate. Remember, the faster you gather your things and clear the belt, the faster the line will move for everyone else. This is a team effort!
Pro tip: regardless of your footwear, throw on some socks – even if it’s just for the security line. You’re not going to want to march through that scanner in bare feet.
Pull Up the Rules as You Pack
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true for getting through the airport quickly. You don’t want to get caught by surprise at that crucial moment when you have to throw your stuff in a bin, then hold up the line to dump out a gallon of water and ditch your aerosol cans of dry shampoo.
Instead, separate things as you pack your carry on. Put all liquids under 3.4 ounces into a quart-sized plastic bag, keep all your electronics together for easy retrieval, and prepare a mental checklist of what you’ll need to pull out when you’re at the front of the line. The TSA’s Security Screening page on their website can help you determine prohibited items, and what needs to be removed from your bag and what can stay in for screening.
Check Your Bag
You can save yourself time in the TSA line if you bite the bullet and pay the checked bag fee instead of trying to fly with just a carry-on. Some travel credit cards even take care of the checked bag fee for you! Imagine the freedom of just grabbing your shoes and moving right along to your gate...
Check in Online
If you decide not to check any bags, this can save you tons of time. Instead of stopping at the airline kiosks, you can beeline right to security. Not only that, it can help you get into an earlier boarding group and therefore make it easier to get to your seat on the plane and settle in before the usual crush of fellow travelers.
Keep Documents Handy
Before you leave your home, gather your passport, ID, boarding pass, and wallet in a secure but easy-to-reach part of your carry on. This will not only enable you to whip out pertinent paperwork at a moment’s notice, it’s a good fail-safe to make sure you have everything you need before you head to the airport.
As odd as it sounds, studies have shown that Americans tend to turn right more often than left when they enter a building. This can translate to shorter lines on the left and longer lines on the right. Though this tip may not be helpful during peak season travel, it’s still worth a shot!
Leave Gifts Unwrapped
Though TSA does allow wrapped gifts through the scanners, if they detect anything that warrants further inspection they’re going to have to unwrap everything and open the box to look inside. Keeping your items easy to open can cut down significantly on the time needed to deal with all that.
Monitor Delays and Wait Times
You can download your airline’s app to get faster updates on flight delays or cancellations. Additionally, there are apps like GateGuru and MiFlight which will keep you apprised of real-time estimated security wait times at your departure airport. These apps can allow you to keep an eye on the line status and make an educated guess about what time you should be at the airport. Some airports even have services you can subscribe to for updates on line lengths inside your terminal.
Focus on your destination rather than the inconvenience of the long security line. Be polite to the agents and make casual eye contact as you pass; you don’t want to get yourself randomly selected for additional screening because you’re being sketchy or annoyed an agent. Remember that even if it feels like you’ll never make it through this interminable line, you eventually will and this will all be a distant memory.