9 ways to get through airport security faster in 2023
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
This summer will quite possibly be a doozy for air travel once again. While some aspects of the flying experience are in a better spot than last year, others aren't.
As TPG's Nick Ewen recently experienced when the general security line at Orlando International Airport (MCO) was clocking in at 68-72 minutes on a Tuesday in May, it may not take much going wrong for lines to mount at the airport once the busy summer travel season ramps up.
Don't worry, though. There are usually ways around those long lines, and we're here to help you get through airport security faster and get on your way.
As for Nick, he used the TSA PreCheck line and was through security in about 15 minutes, which is longer than normal but a far cry from the hourlong wait faced by those without PreCheck.
Here are eight tips for getting through airport security faster.
Sign up for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck) is an incredibly useful tool for the frequent flyer since it allows you to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection in minutes after a trip abroad. The application fee is $100, and once approved, your membership is valid for five years.
With TSA PreCheck, you’ll get access to an expedited security line and reduced security measures. You can leave your shoes, belt and a light jacket on, and your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids stay in your bag. PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports with 85 airlines and it costs $78 for five years.
If you don’t have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, check your wallet and look at your credit cards. Many cards will reimburse the application fees for PreCheck and/or Global Entry up to $100 once every four or five years. Some that cover program enrollment fees are The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and the United Explorer Card.
Related: Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which is better?
If you've always assumed you didn't need Clear because you have PreCheck, it may be time to think again. This is one of the latest programs created to expedite the security screening process, and it is currently in more than 50 airports. Clear uses a biometric identity platform that relies on fingerprint and iris scanning to speed up the identification process at airport security checkpoints, stadiums and other venues.
Related: Clear expedited airport security program — is it worth it?
Clear membership, coupled with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, will result in you getting through security in five minutes or less at many airports most of the time. A Clear membership will run you $189 a year; you can add a family member for $60 and children under 18 are free. You can currently get a free one-month trial.
There are ways to cut the cost or get Clear for free for even longer than a month. If you’re a Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus member (joining those loyalty programs is free), you pay only $179 a year without elite status and $149 if you have elite status.
Those with top-tier elite status, such as Delta Diamond Medallion and United 1K members, get Clear for free. The Amex Platinum Card and the American Express® Green Card come with an up to $189 Clear Plus annual credits. Enrollment is required.
Related: Should you get TSA PreCheck or Clear — or both?
Reserve your spot in line
A growing number of airports allow you to reserve your spot in the security line in advance without any specific program membership. Sometimes this costs extra, but sometimes it doesn't.
For example, at LaGuardia Airport's new Terminal B, you can spend $15-$20 for a B-Fast pass that allows you access to a shorter security line. The higher-priced option is available for immediate use. At Orlando International Airport, a place known for long security lines during peak travel times, you can reserve a spot in line for free via Clear's Reserve program. Using this option does not require a Clear membership.
Search online for options to reserve spots in line for the airport you're departing from, as how this works at each airport varies.
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 at some airports. That means the United Airlines Polaris international business-class seat can shave precious minutes off wait times at some TSA checkpoints with "Premier Access" signs.
Airlines offering this perk include:
- Alaska Airlines: First-class passengers.
- American Airlines: Priority AAccess, business-class and first-class passengers.
- Delta Air Lines: SkyPriority, Delta One and first-class passengers.
- JetBlue: Even More Space and Mint passengers.
- Southwest Airlines: Business Select passengers.
- United Airlines: Premier Access, business-class and first-class passengers.
Related: The best premium cabin seats in the US and how to book them
Get airline elite status
If you don't have PreCheck or Clear and you are not flying in premium cabins, you can still sometimes get expedited security access via airline elite status. 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 the programs below are eligible for this benefit. Note that access is not available at every airport, so check with your airline in advance.
- Alaska Airlines: MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K and MVP 100K members.
- American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.
- Delta Air Lines: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members.
- JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic and Mosaic+ members.
- Southwest Airlines: A-List and A-List Preferred members.
- United Airlines: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members.
Related: The best airline credit cards
No, we aren't saying dressing up gets you to the front of the line. It doesn't. However, regular travelers know there’s always that one person who holds up the line because they have to untie their shoes, unzip cumbersome boots, take off their jewelry, remove belts and coins from their pockets and more. Save time for yourself and others by using common sense when you pick out what shoes and accessories you wear to fly.
Wear shoes without metal and ones you can quickly remove and put back on if necessary. Wear a jacket with big pockets so that after passing through security, you can quickly throw your phone, wallet and passport in them before grabbing the rest of your belongings.
If you’re not in the PreCheck line, take out your laptop or tablet and your 3-1-1 liquids bag, remove your jacket and shoes and make sure that your belt and metal jewelry are off and those coins are out of your pocket before going through the metal detector.
Related: What are the best travel shoes? TPG staff members share their must-haves
Know the rules
Remember you must remove your laptop from its case and place it in its own bin if you're not in a PreCheck lane. Make sure any liquids in your carry-on 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 empty your reusable bottle before going through the security line.
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
There are apps that help you keep an eye on the security wait times at the airport. Some options include MiFlight, App in the Air, Kayak and MyTSA. These apps allow you to check 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 — but remember, things can and do change, so allow buffer time regardless of what the wait time is while you are still at home.
Related: 30 essential travel apps every traveler needs
Fly at the right time
Try not to travel at a time when the security checkpoints will jam. Backups can happen at any time. However, the beginning and end of long weekends, holiday breaks and more have the potential to be quite crowded.
Related: This summer may be the perfect storm for long airport security lines — here’s how to avoid them
Although going to the airport during the busy travel season can be stressful, there are several options to get through security faster than your traveling peers.
Signing up for TSA PreCheck and/or Clear are our favorite ways to get expedited security, but there are other ways to speed up the process. Being a savvy traveler is a big part of getting through the airport with your sanity intact.
- Why you should get TSA PreCheck and Clear — and how you can save on both
- Short staffing and high demand could spell disaster for your summer travel plans
- TSA and Clear to launch single application for both programs
- TSA PreCheck just got cheaper, but remember that you can get it for free
- 12 key things to know about TSA PreCheck
Additional reporting by Summer Hull and Clint Henderson.