10 ways to get through airport security faster
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Getting through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of travel — especially with the TSA struggling to handle a crush of travelers who were grounded by the pandemic for 15 months. Growing crowds of travelers and TSA staffing shortages have converged to create a perfect storm of longer security checkpoint wait times.
To help ease travelers’ pain, TSA is offering $1,000 bonuses for new hires. It has also pulled managers from their desks to work at checkpoints. If you have flights coming up, expect to see long lines. It would be wise to check your airport’s website for security checkpoint wait times and get there earlier than usual, especially if you’re checking bags. I’m fortunate that my home airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), has this information on its home page.
However, airport security doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. If you follow our tips below, you’ll fly through airport security faster.
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Get airline elite status
One of the quickest ways to get expedited security checkpoint access is through airline elite status. Southwest Airlines A-List and A-List Preferred members have access to expedited security via the Fly By Priority airport security checkpoint. This benefit is usually — but not always — extended to any companions traveling with the elite member, so it can’t hurt to try and bring them along with you. Passengers with elite status from any of the following programs are eligible for this benefit.
- Alaska Airlines: MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members
- American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
- Delta Air Lines: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
- JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic members
- Southwest Airlines: A-List and A-List Preferred members
- United Airlines: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K 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 cobranded credit cards that offer elite status through points-earning sign-up bonuses.
Sign up for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck) is an incredibly useful tool to have for the frequent flyer since it allows you to clear U.S. Customs after a trip abroad in a matter of minutes. At $100 every five years, it really pays for itself after one trip outside the U.S.
With TSA PreCheck, you’ll get access to an expedited security line, as well as reduced security measures. You don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, a light jacket, your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids from your bag. PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports with 80 airlines. It costs $85 for five years.
If you don’t have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, take out your wallet and look at your cards. Those that will cover one program’s enrollment fees include The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Citi Prestige® Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Fly premium class
Flying in a first or business-class cabin not only comes with an upgraded inflight experience, but it also gets you priority access to expedited airport security checkpoint lines. So that United Airline Polaris international business-class seat can shave precious minutes off wait times at TSA checkpoints.
Airlines offering this perk include:
- 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
- Southwest: Business Select passengers
- United: Premier Access, business class and first-class passengers
Get Clear expedited security
Clear is one of the latest innovative programs created to expedite the security screening process, currently located in more than 50 airports. It’s a biometric identity platform that uses fingerprint and iris scanning to speed up the identification process at airport security checkpoints. The Clear app now comes with Health Pass, which lets you manage your COVID-19 information, from testing to vaccination, on your smartphone. The new Home to Gate feature integrates traffic data, security screening and terminal walking times to help you decide exactly when to leave and arrive at your gate on time.
My Clear membership, coupled with Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, gets me through security lines in five minutes or less at BWI Airport, which can have long lines at peak times. A Clear membership will run you $179 a year; you can add a family member for $50 and children under 18 are free. You can currently test it out free for two months. But there are ways to cut the cost — or get it for free. If you’re a Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus member (joining is free), you pay only $119 a year for those with no status and $109 for silver, gold or platinum members.
Delta Diamond Medallion and United 1K members get Clear for free. And the Amex Platinum card now comes with with a Clear membership credit when you use your card (up to $179 back per calendar year, in the form of statement credits).
Regular travelers know there’s always that one person who holds up the line because they have to untie their cumbersome boots, take off their jewelry, remove belts and coins from their pockets and more. But you can save time by using common sense when you pick out what you wear at the airport.
Wear shoes that you can quickly remove and then put back on. 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. If you’re not in the PreCheck line, take out your laptop or tablet, your 3-1-1 liquids bag, remove your jacket and shoes and make sure that your belt and metal jewelry is off and those coins are out of your pocket.
Know the rules
Remember that a laptop must be removed from its case and placed in its 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 (here are the rules for the TSA’s 3-1-1 policy). 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.
Monitor wait times at your airport
Need to track airport checkpoint wait times? There are apps for that. Some of my favorites include MiFlight, App in the Air, Kayak and MyTSA. These apps 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 this information on their website.
Check your bag
If possible, check your bag at the counter to reduce security wait times. Most airlines — except for Southwest — charge a fee to check a bag. As a result, more people are flying with just a carry-on to save money, which, in turn, slows down the screening process.
If you don’t want to pay a fee to check your bag, check out these credit cards that offer free checked baggage. Additionally, cards such as Amex Platinum and the Citi Prestige offer annual travel credit that can be applied toward checked bag fees.
Although some TSA agents may not be the friendliest, it can’t hurt to be nice. They have a tough job, made even tougher with growing crowds and short staffing, so have some sympathy. Whether you’re cutting it close for your flight or you are traveling with small children and need some help, a TSA agent just might send you through the priority line. It can’t hurt to ask!
Fly at the right time
Try not to travel at a time when the security checkpoints will look like the above photo. We’re always hearing horror stories of airport lines around major holidays. But as passengers come back after a pandemic-induced travel moratorium, lines are getting longer at the nation’s airports during peak times,. Pick your flight times wisely.
Personally, I’m a big fan of early-morning flights. Avoid choosing flights that depart at peak travel times, such as Friday or Sunday afternoons between 4 and 8 p.m., as business travelers are heading home from their workweeks 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.
Additional reporting by Nick Ellis
Featured photo by SolStock/Getty Images.
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