Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways To Get Through Airport Security Faster in the US

by on August 21, 2012 · 35 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Top 10

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Getting through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the travel experience. Slow lines, grouchy TSA agents and borderline violations of privacy are just some of the joys you can hope to experience on your next trip to the airport. However, there are some ways to make this process less painful, so here are are picks on the top 10 ways to get through airport security faster.

Delta is one of many airlines that provides priority security to their elite members.

1. Elite Status: One of the best ways to get through airport security faster is by having elite status. Most airlines allow at least their mid-tier and high-tier elites to access the priority security lines. This benefit is usually extended to any companions traveling with the elite member, so it can’t hurt to try and bring them along with you. Passengers having any one of the following elite status are eligible for this benefit:

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
US Airways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
Alaska: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members
Jetblue: TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats
Virigin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members

An added benefit of flying in First or Business Class is priority security access.

2. Fly Premium Class: In addition to allowing those with elite status to enter the priority security lanes, those flying in First or Business class are also allowed to use these lanes. Some airports, such as Honolulu, will put a stamp on your boarding pass when you check-in that will allow those seated in a premium class to use the faster security lines. Some airports even have their own terminal for first class or business class passengers. Delta has this at Terminal 2 at JFK for their Sky Priority customers, and of course Lufthansa has their First Class Terminal in Frankfurt where the security screening process is almost instantaneous.

TSA Pre-Check is available at over 20 airports so far.

3. TSA Pre-Check: The TSA risk-based screening initiative, TSA Pre-Check, started in October 2011. The goal of this initiative is to test modified screening procedures for selected passengers traveling through certain security checkpoints within the U.S. Customers with certain elite status levels as well as members of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS Trusted Traveler programs who are U.S. citizens may be eligible to participate in this pilot program. Eligible members must opt-in to be considered for Pre-Check. Members may opt in by updating and saving their Secure Flight Passenger Data, or by adding their Trusted Traveler / Membership Number / PassID (for Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS members) in the Known Traveler field in the Secure Flight section on airlines’ sites. The great thing if you are selected is you don’t have to take your shoes, belt, or jacket off and you can leave laptop computers in the bag. This can be a big time saver, but since it’s random, there is no guarantee passengers will get it, even if you are enrolled. Depending on the check point, this is only available for passengers flying on Delta, United, American, U.S. Airways and Alaska Airlines. This is currently available at over 20 of the nation’s busiest airports and new locations are continuing to be added each month.

4. Ask Nicely: This can actually go a lot further than you might think. Most often, the agents manning the priority security lines are independent airport contract workers and sometimes even TSA agents. Rarely is it the actual airlines’ employees since their time can be spent better at the check-in areas or the gates. Whether it is because you are cutting your time too short and your flight is starting to board or if you are traveling with small children, they just might send you through the priority line. It can’t hurt to ask!

CLEAR only has locations at 4 airports so far.

5.  CLEAR: This is an innovative program that helps travelers zip through airport security using the biometric CLEARcard. The standard unlimited annual pricing plan is $179 (not worth it unless you are based in one of their cities and fly a lot). The current locations of CLEAR are at Denver International Airport (DEN), Orlando International Airport (MCO), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW). With the limited number of locations, and since it really is just a front of the line benefit, I couldn’t justify the annual fee – I think TSA PreCheck is much better.

American Airlines Flagship Security Line at Miami.

6. American Airlines Flagship Check-In: Another good way to speed up your time at airport security is with American’s flagship service. In addition to the customer service representatives who personally assist with your individual check-in and travel requirements including baggage check, seating, itinerary changes, there is a designated premium security line with expedited access. To take advantage of Flagship Check-in service you must fall into one of the following groups: Five Star Service passengers,  ConciergeKey members (those who pay $125+ for VIP services), those traveling first class onboard an international American or British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas flight anywhere in your outbound itinerary, and first class passengers on an American three-class transcontinental aircraft between MIA and LAX, and from LAX to JFK. The two current locations of this are at Los Angeles and now at Miami, though American says it will be rolling out to future locations this year. At Miami especially, this can save a ton of time since there are so many AA elites based here, and even the elite line can take 20+ minutes.

7. Selectively choose your security line: Many airports have multiple entries into the airport. If you see a huge line at one checkpoint, try another. Educate yourself on the options at your home airport. Many airports have connected terminals once through security, so you can sometimes save time by entering a further security checkpoint and then transiting once in the terminal.

Know which items you need to take out and which you can leave before you’re at the head of the line so you don’t slow everyone else down.

8. Dress appropriately and know what, how and when to take certain items off and put them back on: Have your ID ready when approaching the TSA agent right before going through screening. Remove shoes (try to leave your thigh-high lace-up boots at home!), belts and everything in your pockets before entering the screening technology and put your shoes directly on the belt to go through the X-ray machine instead of in a bin with other items. Tip: I like to put my wallet, phone and any other loose items in a coat or jacket pocket so I can throw it on once through security. Another tip: you don’t need to take off most jewelry. I always see people taking off watches, but I never have and they haven’t set off metal detectors. Take your laptop out and put it in a bin (there are some laptop-friendly cases in which your computer doesn’t even have to come out). iPads, cameras and other devices can stay in your bag. Take your liquids out of your bag and place them in a clear plastic bag (seriously, double check to make sure your water bottle isn’t in your bag- it delays the whole line when they have to re-run your bag). The TSA recommends the 3-1-1 approach. Once through the screener, take your belongings and either move them down the lane or try to reassemble yourself at a nearby bench. Trying to do everything at the belt slows everything down, so do your best to keep the movement going even though it can be stressful trying to reclaim your items and put your shoes and belt back on.

9. Adjust approach for children and seniors: Infants and children need to be taken out of baby carriers and strollers before they can go through the metal detector. Strollers and baby carriers can go through the X-ray machine with your bags. If possible, collapse the stroller before arriving at the metal detector. Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening. For seniors, modified screening measures allow passengers 75 and older to leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints. Seniors can also undergo an additional pass through Advanced Imaging Technology to clear any anomalies detected during screening. Check out our earlier post about Tips for Traveling with a Mobility-Challenged Person for even more advice.

TSA agents work hard and wield a decent amount of power, so treat them nicely!

10. Don’t be an idiot: While you may disagree with TSA procedures, snarky responses and rude behavior to front-line employees are not going to make a change in policy. Like it or not, TSA agents actually have a decent amount of power, so if you try to make stupid jokes or give them a hard time, you won’t only hold up the process for yourself, but for everyone behind you as well.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • cg23

    I have TSA Pre-Check and upon checking-in you have to let the agent know that you have it. It doesn’t automatically come up. And if it’s not on your boarding pass, the TSA officer won’t let you on the special line. This has been a bit of a problem for me bc I tend to do online chech-in or the kiosk check-in… Anyone have similar experience??

  • nsk

    TPG: do you (or does anyone else) have anecdotal evidence that #4 has actually worked?

    cg23: My experience is exactly the opposite of yours. TSA Pre-Check is automatically added to my Delta boarding passes, probably embedded in the bar code. When the agent scans it at security entrance, his machine beeps three times, and he tells me to go into the PreCheck line. If for some reason I don’t get the three beeps, I’m told to go in the regular line. If I protest, the agent reminds me that I am a brown male in the U.S.

  • Cac

    If you have a valid military CAC (Common Access Card) you are automatically entitled to TSA-Pre. I use it all the time for traveling and it is AWESOME. (Note: Military personnel generally have a SECRET clearance already and have gone through background checks) There is virtually no line and the security screening is very much reminiscent of pre-9/11 security (shoes on, belt on, no computer in separate bin, etc.). If I know I am traveling to a TSA-Pre airport I show around 45 minutes before my flight. Great option for the 2.4 million active duty, reserve and national guard personnel!

  • A. S.

    And the # 1 way to beat the system: arrive late!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the frustrating experience of being in line for 10 minutes, then some jackoff who is “late” is brought to the front by the airline rep because they need to close the flight. Granted, sometimes there are real emergencies that aren’t the person’s fault (was in an accident, flat tire, etc.), but most of the time it’s execs in suits who think that the world revolves around them and their last-minute meetings. Somebody else’s poor planning should not become my emergency!

  • Novotnyjack

    I just contacted Chase about the reduced spending amount and was told it was still $3,000.00. I just applied last week and goit my card yesterday.


  • TPG Intern Ryan

    Yes, that c0uld work but I wouldn’t want to rely on it!

  • tlub

    i had the same problem because it is 3000 on their site but I just told them to go through a link on this website and they saw the new offer and agreed to honor the change.

  • Incognito56

    What an absolutely useless read. Would rather spend extra time ion the security line than have read this.

  • ryan pramer

    I used to do this all the time before I had status at LGA D terminal.

  • anon

    One if the easiest ways I’ve used to get through security faster is to use less busy airports when possible. For instance, when my girlfriend and I fly to la to see her family, we fly oak to burbank rather than sfo to lax. About the same drive from each airport to our home and destination, but faster security and less traffic at the curbside pickup!

  • BobChi

    I think there must be a logical answer, but what are internal mechanics of how status with an airline gets people a priority lane? It’s obvious why such customers have priority check-in and boarding, which are run by the airline, but how does it work with security, which is paid by all passengers and the taxpayers? Why would TSA treat people differently because of their status with an airline? Does the airline pay a special fee for that, pay for the agents itself, or what?

  • Leahys

    All true. My husband and I were just traveling with our two boys JFK to LAX and when my husband approached a TSA agent with his military ID we bypassed the mile-long security checkpoint and were taken through the Personnel checkpoint. No line, no waiting – another kind of Elite status!

  • Anonymous

    The priority check in lines are not staffed (or enforced) by TSA. They only control the actual security checkpoint, not the lines that lead up to them. I have **never** been stopped (or questioned) by a TSA agent when I’ve gone through a first class line (and I always fly coach).

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  • freqflier

    That is just rude. People who are int he first class or priority lines have either paid for the privilege or have earned it by being away from home for countless days. Earn it or pay for it or stay in the coach line please.

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  • Amusing

    Awwww, that’s cute.

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  • MFK

    Even as a federal contractor, I have a DoD clearance and a CAC so can access the TSA-Pre line and I also have TSA-Pre as a backup (will most likely lose CAC when contract POP is up).

  • Hchiutx

    Ever seen that movie “up in the air” with George Clooney? Don’t ever line up behind Muslims, family with babies, old people. Do line up behind Asian businessmen. I did not know I fit one of the profiles until I saw the movie – and the movie is right on!

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  • m_gear

    I suspect that none of the extra cost of a first class ticket goes towards paying for the extra security line. We schleps in coach probably pay just as much of the expense for it.

  • Bob

    Love the TSA violates the fourth amendment. What right does the agent have to go thru my wallet. After being scanned. People are meek watch out your losing your civil liberties one at a time. I’m filing a complaint with the tsa once I get home. Now way this stiff had a right to look thru my wallet.

  • Demetra

    TSA stole 3 boxes of packed Sees 1 pound candies from my suitcase! shame shame. NExt time will hand carry. Over $60 lost to crooks.

  • Avid Flyers

    As an airline employee I see this happen too often. I personally tell people that it wouldn’t be fair to the people who showed up on time. The only ones that I run through security is during times of cancellations and we have to move passengers to an earlier flight so they could make their connections. Very rarely do I do it.

  • maxime1793

    You may think that is great because your life is already surveilled and you’ve given out all your personal information already under all these bogus “security checks”. The point is it is illegal to treat people like criminals just because they do not have a “SECRET clearance” and we should not be subject to all this BS because we are not in some secret government-employee class.

  • maxime1793

    Great, “another kind of Elite status” for you! And all you had to do was sell your lives to the government and fight their illegal wars for them!

  • maxime1793

    These people don’t care – they’re all military or Fed contractors, have security clearances, and think they own us.

  • maxime1793

    And gee, even if you had been like these idiots posting here and given all your biometric data to the Department of Homeland Security to bypass security lines, your stuff can still be stolen out of your luggage from the minimum wage hires who handle baggage.

  • maxime1793

    What is rude is people who think they deserve the right to be treated better than the rest of us because they fly Business Class, work for the State, or are so stupid and naïf to give the DHS their biometric data. That’s freakin’ rude! The Constitution applies to everyone – defend it or you’re going down with the rest of us.

  • tinzel

    Did you read the signs before entering the security check point? All passengers are subject to screening, if you refuse the screening process it could prevent you from flying. Don’t be ignorant as to what can be hidden inside time hold your cash in hand and send your wallet thru the xray just like women have to send their purse thru the xray

  • tinzel

    Your information is out here more than you know…I went to our local cell phone company and was shocked to the amount of information they could see on me..TSA is doing a job, treat them on how you would want to be treated and you might get the same respect

  • tinzel

    Check with your airlines, if you paid to get into the program, you have to update that information with them and be sure the airline is in the program. There is a random factor built into it, so read about it on their website.

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