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Getting through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of traveling — especially with the TSA having the number of issues that we’ve been seeing in the news lately. Passengers have reported outlandish security checkpoint wait times, airlines (specifically American and United) have had to call in millions of dollars’ worth of reinforcements to help the TSA, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has even threatened to drop the agency completely in favor of third-party contractors.
However, airport security doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Just last week, the TSA removed its head of security from his position, so there’s hope that things could improve. In the meantime, here are our picks for the top 10 ways to get through airport security faster.
1. Get Airline Elite Status
One of the quickest ways to get expedited security is through airline elite status. Most airlines allow at least their mid-tier and high-tier elites to access the priority security lines, so you can join first class passengers at security even if you’re not flying up front. 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 with any one of the following elite status are eligible for this benefit:
Alaska: MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members
Virgin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members
If you don’t currently have elite status with any airline, don’t fret — gaining elite status can be quick (and easy). There are several airline co-branded credit cards that offer elite status through points-earning sign-up bonuses — see this post for complete details.
2. Sign Up For TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck (and therefore Global Entry, as Global Entry comes with PreCheck) is an incredibly useful tool to have for the frequent flyer. With it, you’ll get access to an expedited security line, as well as reduced security measures. As a TSA PreCheck flyer, you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, light jacket or your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids from your bag. PreCheck is available at more than 160 airports with 14 airlines — Aeromexico, Cape Air, Etihad Airways and Seaborne Airlines were just added last week.
If you don’t have expedited security with TSA PreCheck but are considering enrolling, don’t forget that several credit cards will give you an account credit for signing up for either the PreCheck or Global Entry programs. Cards such as The Platinum Card from American Express, Citi Prestige, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card and the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, among others, offer credit for the cost of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership.
3. Fly a Premium Class
Other than flying in a premium class giving you an enhanced in-flight experience, you’ll also be whisked away to your business or first class seat faster just for having that ticket. Along with specific elite members with the airlines mentioned above, premium-class passengers are also entitled to expedited security lane access.
Alaska: First class passengers
American: Priority AAccess, business class and first class passengers
Delta: SkyPriority, Delta One and first class passengers
JetBlue: Even More Space and Mint passengers
United: Premier Access, business class and first class passengers
Virgin America: Main Cabin Select and first class passengers
4. Get CLEAR Expedited Security
CLEAR is one of the latest innovative programs created to expedite the security screening process — and it’s continuing its expansion to new airports. The service is the leading biometric identity platform in the US that utilizes fingerprint and iris scanning to speed up the identification process at airport security checkpoints. CLEAR is currently available at 13 airports, including Austin (AUS), Baltimore (BWI), Dallas (DFW), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH and HOU), Las Vegas (LAS), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), San Antonio (SAT), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Westchester County (HPN). Delta Diamond Medallion members can now get free CLEAR expedited security, as the two companies have teamed up to offer the program at more Delta US hubs in the future.
Membership to the service is $179 annually, and you can add a family member for $50 and children under 18 are free. If you’d like to sign up for a CLEAR membership, use the promo code CLEARTPG18 or use this link to get a discounted membership of $149 for the first year.
5. Dress Appropriately
Use common sense when you’re picking out your airport attire. Wear a jacket with big pockets so that after passing through security you can quickly throw your phone, wallet and passport in a pocket before grabbing the rest of your belongings. Wear shoes that you can quickly remove and then put back on. Note that you don’t have to take all of your jewelry off — many passengers leave watches on and don’t have problems when going through the metal detector.
6. Know the Rules
Remember that laptops must be removed from their cases and placed in their own bin, unless you’re in a PreCheck lane. Make sure that any liquids in your carry on bag are in a clear plastic bag (you can read the rules for the TSA’s 3-1-1 policy here). Throw away any plastic bottles with liquid in them and make sure to empty your reusable bottle before going through the security line. If there’s a bottle with liquid in your bag it’ll have to be re-screened, adding a lot of time to the process. Finally, when you’re through the metal detectors, collect your belongings from the belt as quickly as possible and reassemble yourself away from the screening area. The quicker you take your belongings off the belt, the quicker everyone else can move through the line.
7. Monitor Wait Times at Your Airport
Apps such as MiFlight and GateGuru will keep you updated on real-time estimated security waiting times at the airport you’re departing from. With airport security lines achieving record wait times, it is now more important than ever to precisely time your trip to the airport. Apps like these allow you to keep an eye on the status of the line several hours before your scheduled departure time and make a better-informed decision on when to arrive. Many airports also have services that allow you to subscribe to updates on the length of the lines inside the terminal.
8. Check Your Bag
Most airlines now charge a fee to check a bag and thus more and more people have been flying with just a carry-on, slowing down the screening process. You could save yourself some time in the security line by checking a bag at the counter. If you don’t want to pay the fees to check your bag, take a look at these credit cards that offer free checked baggage. Additionally, cards such as The Platinum Card from American Express, Citi Prestige and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card offer annual travel credit that can be applied towards checked bag fees.
9. Be Friendly
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!
10. Fly at the Right Time
Every year we hear about horror stories of airport lines around holidays, particularly the day before Thanksgiving. But now with a record number of travelers using the nation’s airports this summer, you’ll want to pick your flight times wisely. Avoid choosing flights that depart at peak travel times such as Friday afternoons between 4 and 8pm, as business travelers are heading home from their work week and leisure travelers are heading out for weekend trips.
Although going to the airport right now may seem like all gloom and doom, there are several options to get through security faster than your traveling peers. Signing up for TSA PreCheck is your first step to expedited security, but there are also other ways you can go about getting through the detectors quicker than normal, including just being in the know on what you can and cannot do.
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