This post is mostly focused on getting through airport security in the United States, as every country does have their own rules and regulations. That being said, some of these tips will be good for any airports, anywhere.
As an American travel junkie, I’ve spent my fair share of time slogging through TSA checkpoints and being subjected to annoying and often humiliating experiences. It’s my least favorite part of travel. Yeah, yeah. I know. TSA agents are technically there to keep us safe, but when you are exhausted and running low on caffeine and all you want to do is just get through security with enough time to use the bathroom and get a coffee, security can be a real pain.
Fortunately, I have a few tips I’ve learned over the years that does help speed up the process at least a little. Read on, friends…
Sign up for a program that gets you through security faster.
If you travel often enough, it’s worth your while to sign up for pre-check. There is a cost involved and you’ll have to go through an application process, but it will save you time in the long run if you spend a lot of time slogging through security lines. There are several different packages you can apply for.
There are three different programs you can sign up for with different fees and different benefits. Here is a general outline of your options:
If you sign up for TSA pre-check, you’ll have an nonrefundable $85 processing fee. What you get in return is you’ll be able to avoid taking off your jacket, belt, and shoes when you go through security. You’re also allowed to leave your laptop computer inside of it’s case. There are certain eligibility requirements you have to meet in order to qualify for the program, however, so definitely check those requirements out before paying the fee.
*I should note that there have been issues with the PreCheck program lately in that interest in the program has been high, so travelers who apply have been experiencing very long delays in the application process. Double check the current situation before applying.
The Global Entry program will allow you to go through security more quickly when you arrive in a foreign country. In order to qualify, you have to pay a nonrefundable $100 application fee, fill out an application, and also be interviewed by TSA at one of their Global Entry Enrollment centers. The whole process is a big pain, but if you travel abroad a lot, it will save you a lot of time when you arrive in new places and go through customs.
There is one more option for you and that is the CLEAR program. This one is good for families who travel since the program is free for children under the age of 18. What it does is allows you to bypass really long security lines. They say that their average wait time is only five minutes, but the fee is $179 per year, by far the most expensive of the three, so it’s up to you whether you think it’s worthwhile or not.
When you approach the security line, be prepared. Have your boarding pass and ID ready to show the agent. Have your bag of liquids in-hand and ready to put in the tray. Have all items that may need to go in the tray (metal jewelry, belt, laptop, etc.) ready and easily accessible to put into the tray. Have your shoes ready to slip off.
Weigh your bag before you attempt to go through security. Make sure it is not too big or too heavy to go as a carry-on, as this will cause significant delays for you.
Plastic zipper bags are your friend.
When you pack, use plastic zipper bags to organize within your luggage. You’ll need all your liquids and gels in one quart sized zipper bag (no more than 3.4 ounces per bottle/container). Put all other toiletry items you want as a carry on into another bag for easy access once you get onto the plane. Have another zipper bag with all your jewelry, cuff links, etc. stowed in it and put it on only after you go through security.
Dress for the occasion.
So, you know you’re going to be going through security. Make sure you’re dressed in a way that will make it as easy as possible. Check and double check your pockets and clothing for any metal. Don’t wear any jewelry through security. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. This will help you slip through security without getting held up when the metal detector goes off, and having easy slip on and off shoes will make the whole taking off shoes thing a little easier. From experience though, wear socks because it feels pretty gross to walk barefoot through airport security. I like a nice pair of loafers for traveling.
Also important: If you have gel inserts for your shoes, this can cause you problems in security. Put any gel inserts into your checked bag to avoid getting hassled over them in the security line. I know, I know, it’s pretty ridiculous and nobody wants their arch support taken away by some TSA agent, but I’m just warning you.
Another thing to consider is that if you wear clothing that is too loose, TSA agents may become suspicious of you because you “might be hiding something” and pull you aside for a pat down (at least buy me dinner first!). Wear fitted clothing so they can’t use that as a reason to pull you aside. Also, remember to take off your coat before you go through security.
Get to the airport early.
All that being said, get to the airport early. It’s boring to sit around in a terminal waiting for your flight, but it’s even worse to miss your flight when there’s an unexpected security delay.