This summer may be the perfect storm for long airport security lines — here’s how to avoid them

Jun 5, 2021

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Summer travel is officially here.

Long TSA security lines during this busy travel season are not new, but the knock-on effects of the pandemic have added the potential for even more delays.

For instance, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) suffered lengthy delays yesterday with reports of travelers waiting upwards of two hours to get through security. While part of the delay was due to a bomb threat, events like this can pile on to staff shortages and increased screening times due to COVID-19. The airport continues advising passengers to arrive three hours early to check-in and for TSA screening.

Security lines may be worse than usual this summer as compared to years past — so what does that mean for travelers? And how can you avoid — or at least minimize — waiting in long TSA airport queues? Let’s dive in.

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Why there may be long security lines

Understaffed TSA

One major culprit that may be attributed to security delays is a shortage of TSA agents nationwide. In fact, the TSA is hiring 6,000 new officers to meet skyrocketing travel demand.

 

Domestic travel is approaching pre-pandemic levels

JFK Terminal 4 lines in late May 2021 (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: You could wait 8 hours at the airport on your next trip; here’s why

Vaccinated Americans are raring to travel and are booking up summer vacations in droves.

International travel remains much lower than pre-2020 levels as many countries continue to restrict foreign visitors. However, domestic travel has rebounded, especially in recent months. In many instances, domestic passenger numbers at select airports are matching — and may soon surpass — levels seen even before the pandemic.

Inexperienced — and rusty — travelers

For many travelers, this summer may be the first time setting foot in an airport in well over a year.

That means reacclimating to the intricacies and processes of security lines including what can (and what can’t) go through the metal detector. If each passenger takes an extra minute or two, that can snowball into a longer-than-normal wait time.

Related: Vaccinated Americans are booking up summer vacations

How to avoid long security lines

Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Clear

Clear airport
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

PreCheck

The most significant perk of TSA PreCheck is access to a dedicated, expedited security line at most U.S. airports. While many PreCheck-specific lines were closed during the pandemic due to a lack of demand, many have since reopened.

In addition, you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, light jacket or your laptop.

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 (usually up to $100) for either the PreCheck or Global Entry programs.

Some popular cards that offer this perk include:

Related: Should you get TSA PreCheck or Clear — or both?

Clear 

Meanwhile, Clear is a membership-based program that utilizes biometric authentication (fingerprint or eye scan) rather than waiting for a TSA agent to inspect your ID.

After your identity has been verified, a Clear representative will escort you to the security screening, bypassing everyone waiting in line. If you’re also enrolled in TSA PreCheck, then you’ll be taken directly to the PreCheck line.

The normal rate for Clear membership is $179 per year. However, there are many ways to save and avoid paying full retail price. Clear partners with both Delta and United to offer special membership rates.

In addition, the American Express® Green Card can also net you a significant discount: you’ll earn an up to $100 statement credit per calendar year when you use the card to purchase a Clear membership. The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Clear expedited airport security program — Is it worth it?

Check TSA wait times before you arrive

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The TSA offers a mobile app, called MyTSA, that provides estimated wait times at each airport security lane.

MyTSA provides passengers with 24/7 access to airport security information. It also includes helpful tips for preparing for security including a searchable database of what you can and cannot bring in your carry-on.

Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. 

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