Standing in line at airport security is one of the worst aspects of air travel. Security can be a huge pain, putting a damper on your whole trip. If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered if there’s an easier way — and there is. My business-traveler husband’s most life-changing travel tip involves TSA PreCheck. But first I’ll share some of his basic tricks to get you through the line asap.
1. Pack an empty water bottle
We’ve all seen someone chugging their water bottle at the front of the security line. It’s awkward to have an audience while you attempt to keep your water bottle from getting tossed. Pack an empty reusable water bottle instead — and stow it somewhere accessible so you can place it in a security bin rather than have to fish around for it to prove it’s empty. Plus, you won’t have to buy water in the terminal, and you can stay hydrated on your vacation.
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2. Fly during off hours
You’d be shocked to see how quiet an airport is during off hours. If you want to begin your trip peacefully, it may be worth extra PTO or effort to book your flights in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Not only is the security line a lot shorter at 4 a.m., but your flights will probably cost less, too. The main rule of traveling during off hours: Don’t book your flights right before a holiday, on weekends, or on Fridays between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
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3. Head left when you enter the security checkpoint
Statistically you’ll get through security faster if you head left when you need to pick an airport security line. It may sound like a long-shot but it could save you precious minutes if you’re running late or encounter a crazy backup. Most people will head right, making the far left line your best bet.
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4. Wear slip-on shoes
If you really want to streamline the process, invest in a comfortable pair of slip-on shoes for traveling. They don’t have to look hideous and it’ll get you through all your checkpoints faster. Plus, slip-on shoes equal fewer minutes of your feet touching the airport floor.
Next: Knowledge is power when entering security.
5. Know your wait time
It may be worth the precious storage on your cellphone to download an app like GateGuru, Fleet, or MiFlight. These all provide real-time estimated security wait times, so you can efficiently plan your trip to the airport. Being informed never hurts when you’re embarking on an important trip.
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6. Be kind and polite
Smile at the airport security attendants. Say thank you when they check your ID and help you get through the screening process. Crack a joke if that’s your thing. Not only will it diffuse the stress of security, but it may also improve a TSA agent’s day and your chances of getting through security efficiently.
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7. The airport VIP line you didn’t know about
In a nutshell, TSA PreCheck is a not-so-secret way to bypass endlessly long security lines. It’s an expedited security screening program managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that allows participants to stand in a special line. PreCheck travelers don’t need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or light jackets. In November 2016, 96% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in security. Think of it as an airport’s VIP line.
Next: It costs less than you think.
8. It’s not expensive and your credit card may help
It all comes down to a simple question: What’s worth more: your time or your money? Enrollment in TSA PreCheck costs $85 and lasts for five years before you must renew. That’s just $17 per year to save you time and frustration.
Even better: Some credit cards will reimburse you or give you a discount for signing up. If you have a Citi Prestige Card, Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Master Card, or a Chase Sapphire Reserve, then your credit card company will reimburse you. For a full list of who will pay you to enroll in PreCheck, click here.
Next: Most people qualify to enroll.
9. You’re probably eligible to enroll
United States citizens of any age can enroll in TSA PreCheck, but it’s probably not worth it for kids under 12 (we’ll get to that in a minute). Foreign citizens who meet specific residency and citizenship requirements may also be able to join the program.
Next: How long it takes to sign up
10. Enrolling takes less than 15 minutes
Ready to enroll? Just submit a TSA PreCheck application online and schedule an in-person interview, background check, and fingerprinting at one of the 380+ certified enrollment centers nationwide. If you want to enroll for an upcoming trip, you should do it sooner rather than later. As more people sign up, appointment slots fill up quickly.
Next: Using PreCheck couldn’t be easier.
11. It’s really easy to use PreCheck
Unlike other memberships, you won’t need to keep track of a physical card when you have PreCheck. Just note your Known Traveler Number (also called your trusted traveler number), and enter it on the reservations page of the airline or travel website when you book a flight.
The nine-character code starts with “TT” if you signed up through TSA; it begins with 98 or 99 if you signed up through Global Entry. Once you enter the number, you’re all set! The PreCheck confirmation will be printed on your boarding pass.
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12. Just make sure you have the number correct
Using TSA PreCheck is easy, but you could make a mistake. When passengers forget to enter their Known Traveler Number on their reservation, or if they enter it incorrectly, the boarding pass won’t print out with the right info. Then, the traveler won’t be able to take advantage of TSA PreCheck. Double- and triple-check your information to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Next: Most major airlines participate.
13. Most major airlines participate in PreCheck
At last count, 200 airports and 37 airlines participated in TSA PreCheck. To find out if your preferred airline will save you from standing in ridiculously long security lines, simply type in the airport name on the official site.
Some airlines currently participating are Allegiant Airlines, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, OneJet, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, Virgin America, and WestJet.
Next: The difference between PreCheck and other airline programs
14. These are the differences between PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear
Global Entry is a little more expensive, but it’s more comprehensive. For $100 (for five years) you can bypass the lines at customs and immigration by checking in at a designated kiosk with a pin number. Global Entry is better for international travelers who leave the country at least once or twice per year. If you sign up for Global Entry, you automatically get PreCheck, too.
Clear is like FastPass for the airport. Clear confirms your identity at a special kiosk, which allows you to jump to the front of the security line. You still must go through security clearance, however. And if you use Clear but aren’t enrolled in TSA PreCheck, then you’ll just head to the front of the regular security line.
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15. Check in early to make sure everything is accurate
Check in for your flight 24 hours in advance to ensure the TSA PreCheck validation appears on your boarding pass. If it’s missing for some reason, you can call the airline to straighten out the issue before you arrive at the airport. If PreCheck is missing from your boarding pass, it could be something as simple as re-entering your birth date or Known Traveler Number. These details are easy to fix if you know in advance.
Next: Some family members can do PreCheck for free.
16. Your kids don’t need PreCheck if they’re under 12
We have three kids, but we don’t spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy all the awesome TSA PreCheck benefits. That’s because children under 12 traveling with an eligible parent or guardian get to participate in PreCheck free of charge.
Next: Millions of people use PreCheck.
17. You could say that PreCheck is very popular
People these days are busy, so naturally PreCheck is popular. The TSA enrolled 2 million travelers in the past year alone, bringing the grand total of PreCheck users to more than 5 million.
Next: The reason why PreCheck isn’t perfect for everyone.
18. It may not be worth it at smaller airports
PreCheck is available at many major airports — but not all of them. If you always fly out of the same local airport where PreCheck travelers don’t enjoy a separate line, it may not be worth it. Plus, the PreCheck lane is only open during certain (busy) hours. If the lane isn’t open, then you have to stand in the regular security line.
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19. The TSA is on your side
No one hates long security lines more than TSA agents. That’s why they created PreCheck — so that infrequent travelers won’t hold up frequent flyers, helping operations run smoothly. If you hate standing in line, then it’s worth checking to see if TSA PreCheck is the right choice for your family. It worked for me!
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Additional reporting by Ali Harrison.