Standing in line for hours to get through airport security is one of humankind’s most dreaded events, right up there with root canals and painting trim.
Staff reductions coupled with increased security measures and busy travel days at airports make the old two hour rule more of a gamble than a guarantee. So, travelers are being forced to arrive earlier than ever to make their flight.
If you plan on taking a vacation and you haven’t yet discovered how to completely skip the line at airport security, then queuing up for hours is something you’ll have to endure. But just because you have to wait in line doesn’t mean you can’t make things easier on yourself.
Ahead, here some of the best pain-free tips for speeding your way through airport security.
1. Keep an eye on wait times before you leave home
Apps can keep you updated on real-time security wait times so you can plan your arrival time strategically. Consider downloading apps such as MiFlight or GateGuru before your flight and make a good decision about when to get in line — and when to stay away.
Next: This wastes precious minutes.
2. Make important documents accessible
Keep your ID, credit card, and boarding pass in an easily accessible yet secure area of your suitcase or handbag. The last thing you want is to get caught digging through all your stuff when you’re trying to move through the security line.
Next: How you pack matters as much as what you pack.
3. Pack everything else in logical order
Anything that you won’t need to access during your flight should be packed at the bottom of your bag, while travel necessities need to stay on top. Use common sense with packing, and if in doubt, just leave it at home! The less you have in your bag, the less chance you have of losing something you need.
Next: Have a plan and stick to it.
4. Always know where you’re going
Take the few extra minutes to plan your route once you arrive at the airport. Go online to check out the map of the building and then walk quickly and confidently once you’re there. The few minutes you shave off your walk from the car or shuttle drop off to the security area could put you closer to the front of the line.
Next: Make the pocket emptying part easier.
5. Put pocket contents in your carry-on
Empty your pockets before you even get in line so you’re not annoying everyone behind you by dumping out loose change and other random stuff when it’s your turn. Designate a specific section of your bag for “pocket stuff” and put everything in there before you reach the checkpoint.
Next: Don’t waste money on overpriced water.
6. Pack an empty water bottle
No, you won’t be allowed to sneak a full bottle of water through security, no matter how much it sucks to spend $5 on a bottle of water once you get to the other side.
Want to save some money? Pack an empty water bottle (a collapsible version takes up less space), and fill it after you’ve successfully gotten through the checkpoint.
Next: Always head left.
7. Head to the left of the security checkpoint
Researchers found that people are naturally inclined to head right, so theoretically the left line should be shorter and move quicker. This may not hold true all the time … but it’s worth a shot.
Next: You can actually skip the security line.
8. Consider TSA PreCheck
You can avoid the long security line completely by signing up for PreCheck, a TSA program which allows low-risk travelers to have expedited security screening. In September 2017, 96% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes to get through security.
Next: Take the red eye.
9. Fly during off hours
It may seem like common sense — because it is! The security line is a lot shorter at 4 a.m. than it is at 4 p.m.. Consider traveling during less popular times to avoid waiting for hours to get through security.
If you can, avoid traveling right before a holiday and on Friday afternoons between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. when people are heading out for weekend fun and business travelers are coming home.
Next: Don’t pack your nunchucks.
10. Know the rules
Before packing anything, read up on the restrictions and protocols for travel so you won’t have any issues making it through the security line. Put liquids in a clear plastic bag and be sure they adhere to volume restrictions. There’s nothing worse than having to toss a full bottle of shampoo because it was over the allotted 3.4 oz limit.
Next: Forget those shoelaces.
11. Wear slip on shoes
Now is not the time to bother with complicated straps, buckles, and laces. Since you already know you’re going to have to take your shoes off, always wear slip on sandals, loafers, sneakers, or slides to make the whole process go faster. But don’t forget to pack fuzzy socks in your carry-on in case the airplane cabin is cold.
Next: Before you pack, ask.
12. Ask an agent
One TSA agent marveled at the number of confiscated items that seemed obvious not to pack — brass knuckles, tools, knives, etc. “Some of the stuff has been on our prohibited list since 2002 when we came into airports,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.
Have a question about a specific item you want to pack? You can tweet the TSA by sending your query to @TSA, call the toll free number (866-289-9673), or you could check their website.
Next: Become an elite traveler.
13. Get airline elite status
Sometimes it pays to be on the list. Most airlines have some form of elite status, and those fliers often enjoy access to priority security lines, which have fewer people and move quicker. Best of all, any travel companions are often allowed to get in line with the elite member, meaning only one of you needs to sign up.
If you don’t have elite status, look into signing up either directly through your preferred airline or using credit card reward points.
Next: Head to the front of the line.
14. Sign up for CLEAR
CLEAR was created to address the growing problem of long security lines. Currently available at 13 major airports, CLEAR uses fingerprint and iris scanning to verify your identity. You’ll still need to go through regular security, but you’ll be moved to the front of the line after successfully scanning in at one of the CLEAR kiosks.
Next: Keep your frustration in check.
15. Be nice
TSA agents are people, too. The kinder you are towards them, the more likely they’ll be to give you special concessions. If you’re about to miss your flight or if you’re traveling with little kids, consider asking if there’s any way expedite the process. Just remember to ask nicely — and smile!
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