As much as we Venuelusters love to travel, one of our least favorite places on Earth is the airport. It’s high-stress, slow-moving and all-around overwhelming. Under pressure, even the most seasoned of travelers can fall apart. Today, then, we wanted to break down some of our favorite tips and tricks for making it to your gate quicker than you ever thought possible (leaving you more time to hit that overpriced airport bar).
Apply for TSA Pre-Check
Applying for TSA Pre-Check is, by far, the most valuable piece of advice we can offer you when it comes to cutting back on time spent in airports. Ever notice those people who don’t have to take off their shoes or remove their laptops? Wonder why they’re passing by you in the security line? They’re TSA Pre-Check passengers (and, more likely than not, super savvy travelers).
To apply for the program, simply complete an online application and make an appointment with a local TSA Pre-Check office in your nearest airport. For your appointment, you’ll need to bring any required documents (these vary depending on your birthplace but, in most cases, you’ll simply need to bring a passport or birth certificate). You’ll also have to provide fingerprints, answer some questions and pay an $85 fee at your appointment. Altogether, the process takes about 15-20 minutes in person (and is worth every second).
Here are some other things to keep in mind about TSA Pre-Check:
- Your Known Traveler Number (the number you’re assigned that signifies you’re TSA Pre-Check approved) is only valid in the United States. You can use TSA Pre-Check when flying out of the U.S. to a foreign country, but not in any foreign countries.
- On less-busy days/times, certain airlines may close the TSA Pre-Check line. It’s not always guaranteed to be open. Though, from my travel experience, I’d say TSA Pre-Check is open about 95% of the time I travel at about 90% of domestic airports I’ve flown out of.
- Certain criminal offenses can disqualify you from becoming a TSA Pre-Check member. Be sure to check the list before you apply and pay the application fee.
- Once you’ve applied, you can check your approval status online. Generally, it takes about ten days to get approved. Keep this in mind if you’re traveling soon and want your TSA Pre-Check status to be approved prior to your trip.
- Once you’ve been approved, be sure to add your TSA Pre-Check status (and Known Traveler Number) to your online profile(s) with any airlines you use. This way, all future boarding passes will be marked with TSA Pre-Check, allowing you to enter the special TSA Pre-Check line.
- If your boarding pass doesn’t have the TSA Pre-Check icon, because you didn't update your online profiles with individual airlines, you won’t be allowed in the TSA Pre-Check line. Always check your boarding pass before heading out for the airport to ensure it’s marked with the proper icon, as a boarding pass is the only document TSA security employees will accept to prove your status. (You can’t simply show them your approval email or pull up your Known Traveller Number online—it has to be printed on your boarding pass or they won’t accept it.)
- The name you used for your TSA Pre-Check application must match the name you use in your online airline profiles in order for the process to work and the TSA Pre-Check icon to show up on your boarding passes. (Look out for things like Matt vs Matthew, Jill vs Jillian or omission/addition of middle names and surnames. If you applied for TSA Pre-Check under “Matthew,” but have a Southwest profile setup under “Matt,” you’ll need to update your name in your Southwest profile in order to reap the benefits of your Pre-Check status.)
Here’s how TSA Pre-Check gets you to your gate faster:
- You won’t have to remove your shoes at security.
- Laptops and liquids can remain in your bag at security.
- There are NO bins in TSA Pre-Check lines; you simply place your bags directly on the belt.
- Most airports include a special security line for TSA Pre-Check members that’s generally much shorter than the regular security line.
- Family members ages 12 and under can travel with you in the TSA Pre-Check line, even if they’re not pre-check approved themselves.
Apply for Global Entry
Global entry is another great program for low-risk passengers that can save you tons of time at the airport. It basically allows for expedited entry for certain passengers upon their re-entry to the states.
You simply arrive back at your domestic airport and—rather than visiting customs—head to the Global Entry kiosks where you’ll scan your passport, place your fingerprints on a machine scanner and complete your customs declaration. From there, you’re free to head to baggage claim and exit the airport.
To apply for Global Entry, create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account, complete the application and pay a $100 application fee. Once your application is approved, you’ll simply need to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center near you. Be sure to bring a passport and one other form of valid I.D. with you. The interview takes about 20-30 minutes and, again, is completely worth the time, especially for regular globetrotters.
Purchase TSA-Approved Cosmetic Bags
Oftentimes, it’s proper preparation of the little things that can save you some serious time when traveling. Liquids tend to be where most travelers get held up at TSA checkpoints. They either bring liquids that are too big, not approved (such as aerosols), or fail to keep their liquids in a transparent bag and remove them from their luggage at security.
U.S. airports require that any carry-on liquids be contained in transparent bags and removed from your luggage at security so that they're completely visible. (Though, this measure doesn’t apply to TSA Pre-Check members who are allowed to keep their liquids in their luggage at security).
While most travelers simply throw their liquid items in ziplocs, we prefer to use a TSA-approved cosmetic bag. They’re much sturdier than ziplocs and, overall, a lot easier to deal with. We love this clear quart bag from Flight001. Keep one stocked and full of sample sizes of all of your favorite toiletries. Then, when you’re ready to hit the road, simply throw it in an outer pocket of your carry-on luggage, where it’s easy to retrieve at security. You’ll save yourself the time it takes to fuss around looking for that flimsy ziploc and, by keeping it stocked back at your house, you’ll also save yourself some serious packing time.
Invest in Luggage that Runs as Fast as You Can
If you’re choosing to carry-on more than just a personal item (like a laptop or purse), we highly recommend investing in spinner luggage (pieces with four pivoting wheels). I spent years with an old-fashioned two-wheel suitcase and didn’t realize, until I recently upgraded, how much my clunky luggage was holding me back.
Spinner luggage is usually super lightweight and can be pulled behind you, pushed out in front of you or even pulled alongside you, so it keeps up easily with your pace and won’t weigh you down when you’re making that mad dash to your gate. We are huge fans of Rimowa’s Salsa Air Polycarbonate line. It comes in tons of head-turning colors and is the lightest weight luggage we’ve handled to date.
Keep a Go-To “Airport List”
One of the most common reasons people get held back at the airport is often that they’ve forgotten something. Even the most organized of travelers can forget their I.D. in their car, leave their cell phone at home or leave their laptop at security when they’re in a huge rush. We recommend, then, creating a go-to airport list and saving it on your phone. Check it once before you leave the house and, again, after you leave security, to ensure you haven’t left anything behind.
Items that should make the list include:
- Boarding Pass
- Cell Phone
- Phone Charger
- Laptop Charger
- Carry-On Bag(s)
Overall, the more you prep, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to head to the airport. Take a few minutes to apply for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, and you’ll save yourself some serious travel time (and headaches).
That’s what we’ve rounded up for you today. Have any airport hacks? Share them with us in the comments section below. Happy travels, Venuelusters.