TSA Travel Tips

Photo Credit: Suzy Guese

I whisked past a security line that seemed to rival the length of the Great Wall of China on my way to my own airport secret. While the masses were waiting in the endless line, I was almost through security in a different part of the airport. Frequently channeling George Clooney’s character in the film Up in the Air, I tend to treat airport security like a test of how fast I can get through the line.

The TSA has warned that security lines at the airport this summer are about to get even longer. As a result, people are missing their flights and record delays are almost requiring passengers to arrive at the airport what seems like days before their flights. Before you pack your sleeping bag and camping gear to arrive a day early to deal with lengthy security lines, practice these tips instead to fly through airport security this summer.

1. Join TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

TSA PreCheck

Photo Credit: Dion Hinchcliffe on Flickr

One of the easiest ways to dodge the long lines at the airport this summer is simply to cough up the cash and join a pre-approved airport security program. TSA PreCheck costs $85 for 5 years. You go through special security lines where you don’t have to remove your shoes, belts or light jackets. You also don’t have to take out your liquids or laptops. TSA Pre Check lines, in essence, are what the airport security lines looked like before September 11th. In order to enroll, you must go to an enrollment center to get fingerprinted for approval.

If you travel a great deal not just in the U.S but also internationally, it might be a good idea to sign up for Global Entry instead. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s program for international travel includes TSA PreCheck eligibility and costs $100 for 5 years. Not only can you move to faster security lines in the U.S. but also you can whisk through customs much more quickly when coming back on international trips.

2. Purchase Priority Access Through Your Airline

If you don’t fly as often, you can always join those expedited security lines at the airport by paying for access on a flight-by-flight basis. Some airlines offer you the option to purchase priority access, granting you the right to head to the expedited security lines through the TSA. For example, Jet Blue offers an “Even More Speed” option you can add on to the price of your ticket to head to faster security lines. United also offers the option to purchase “Premier Access” and thus go through the quick security lines.

Travelers should be aware that purchasing priority airport security access through your airline isn’t always what it seems. The access is often only offered at a select list of airports. Before you cough up the extra cash, be sure that your airport is offered. Otherwise, you could just be throwing away your money if there isn’t priority access at your local airport.

3. Know Your Airport Security Lines

Airport Security lines

Photo Credit: Karl Baron on Flickr

So many travelers don’t know their airport security lines. Some airports are notorious for long security lines like LAX, LaGuardia, Miami, JFK and Chicago O’Hare. Even my home airport of DIA, Denver International Airport, frequently tops the list of longest airport security wait times. However, with a little research, knowing your airport security lines can help you fly through security while the rest of the pack is stuck in the hour long line.

I usually do a bit of research on the airports I’m flying in and out of as part of my trip preparations. You can familiarize yourself with where the security lines are located so you don’t waste time wandering around. Also, many travelers head for the line that is most visible. There might be other options that have less of a wait time. See if one line usually has less of a wait than others. For example, at DIA, there is a bridge security checkpoint at Concourse A. While not always, this line is generally much shorter than the two main terminal lines.

4. There’s An App For That

My TSA app

Photo Credit: iTunes Store

In today’s world, there always seems to be an app for solving our problems. In the case of airport security, there are many different apps that claim they can help you navigate security lines quicker and more efficiently. MIFLIGHT is one of those apps, a crowdsourced travel platform in which users can see what the wait times are for airport security. You can select your airport and find out what other travelers are saying about the wait times. The app FLEET works in a similar fashion, reporting on the latest delay information sourced from other travelers and official airline updates. My TSA app also claims to do the same as the other two, stating the wait times at security checkpoints.

While these apps can be useful, they also shouldn’t stand-alone. Check to see when the wait times were last updated. Also, don’t just arrive at the airport based on what the app tells you the wait times may be. Some of the apps have been shown to list no wait, when in actuality there is a half hour security line when you get there. Consult as many as you can to assist with flying through airport security but also make sure those reports have been updated.

5. Avoid Jewelry and Wear Slip-On Shoes

Security lines can be lengthy due to people setting off the full-body scanners due to jewelry or taking extra time to untie and put shoes back on. You can save yourself delays by dressing accordingly for the airport. I never wear jewelry when I travel and I always adorn slip-on shoes for airport security. In addition to dressing the part for airport security, you can also get ready to expedite the process while you wait in line. Take your jacket off when you get in line and pull out your liquids and laptop.

6. Know The TSA Rules

By this point, if you travel frequently, you probably know the TSA rules for getting through security. However, whenever I fly, there is always someone that holds up the line as they appear shocked that they have to take out their liquids or that they need to remove their shoes. If you don’t know the TSA rules before you head for the airport, you are most likely going to delay the line and thus make the line longer for others. Some of the basics to know are that you need a photo ID out when you finally reach the podium. Also, you can’t bring liquids that are over 3 ounces in volume. Unless you are under 12 or over 75, you’ll also have to take off your shoes and jacket. If it has been awhile since you last flew, read up on the TSA rules to help keep the line moving.

7. Lane Selection Is Everything

airport security

Photo Credit: Michael Gray on Flickr

Lastly, you might know the TSA rules, dress without any metals and wear slip on shoes and still find yourself waiting in an endless line. Your last resort should be to do a quick scan of the lines available. Look at who is in line. For example, the line with families with small children is probably going to take a bit longer than the line with more business travelers. Take a quick look at the people in front of you and gauge if they might take longer to get through security. Also, most travelers gravitate toward the center lines. You’ll often find that the outer lines of security are much shorter as people don’t want to move all the way over.

Summer travel is no walk in the park, especially if you are flying. With record-breaking airport security lines already inflicting travelers daily, it is always a good idea to practice a few hacks for flying through security to speed up the process.

Your Turn

Do you fly through airport security? Share your favorite tips for dodging the long lines and missed flights.