By Alexa Erickson and Readers Digest
Navigating airport security can be one of the biggest challenges you face when traveling. These tips will make the process as painless (and speedy!) as possible.
Get TSA PreCheck
Emily McNutt, news editor at The Points Guy, says the number one tip for getting through airport security faster is to enroll in the TSA PreCheck program, which she says provides access to a faster security lane. PreCheck passengers don’t have to take off their shoes or remove their approved liquids or electronic devices, so there are fewer hold-ups.
Sign up for CLEAR
CLEAR is a relatively new biometric technology that sounds creepy but is super-helpful. It allows members to scan their iris or fingerprint in order to clear the identity part of security. “There’s no need to take out your license—all you need is your boarding pass to hand to the TSA agent,” explains McNutt. “Once you’ve cleared the ID check at the CLEAR kiosk, a rep will escort you to the front of the security line—either PreCheck or the ‘regular’ lane. Essentially, CLEAR is a way to make sure you never wait in line.”
Get airline elite status
There’s a reason frequent flyers choose the same airline each time if possible—it earns them elite status. With elite status (which you can earn with most major U.S. carriers after flying a qualifying number of miles or meeting a certain spending threshold), you automatically get a number of perks and benefits, including access to priority security lines. “It’s worth not waiting in the ‘regular’ lane if you can,” McNutt says. Having airline elite status will really save you during the holidays, when airports are jammed.
Plan for the security steps
It may sound like something you should already know, but how many times have you gotten to the security line only to realize you’re wearing shoes that are difficult to remove, plus a belt and jewelry? Oh, and you forgot to empty your water bottle. “By having your belongings already organized, you can speed up the process for yourself and those around you. While you’re waiting in line, take off your coat. Get your liquids in a clear bag ready to place in a bin,” says McNutt.
Have your documents in hand
McNutt suggests that anyone without CLEAR have their documents—including both a photo ID and a boarding pass—ready in hand. That ensures you won’t hold up the line sifting through your pockets or purse to find them. Did you know about the new rule that certain state drivers’ licenses are no longer valid forms of ID?
Carry the right bag
To get your belongings onto the scanner belt faster, bring the right type of carry-on bag, travel expert Dara Continenza of Hopper, an airfare-predicting app, told Southern Living. “Choose a lightweight carry-on bag with four wheels that handles easily and can be lifted onto a table with little effort.” Bags with an outside compartment for your laptop are helpful for expediting the process, too.
Upgrade to a premium class
It’s not a reason to pay hundreds more for airfare, but if you can fly business or first class, there are security perks. “Many airlines offer passengers access to priority security lanes if you’re flying in a premium class of service,” McNutt says. “The airlines differ, however, so be sure to ask when checking in.” If you’re in coach, though, you can still improve your situation with the very best airplane seat for every single need.
Fly at the right time
That might mean off-peak or even off-season. “Everyone knows that flying on peak dates can make security a nightmare, so try to avoid traveling on the days immediately before and after major holidays,” McNutt says. If you can’t travel off-peak, leave yourself extra time to travel, especially during the peak summer travel season.
Monitor wait times at the airport
Technology has come a long way in the world of travel, so use your smartphone to your advantage and download apps like MiFlight, which help you determine just how early you need to leave for the airport and the ideal time to arrive.
Avoid making yourself a target
Certain things drastically increase your chances of getting TSA’s attention—and not in a good way. That includes mentioning weapons in any capacity, even as a joke; carrying wads of cash; traveling with coffee, which is a classic way to mask the smell of illegal substances; not checking your kids’ baggage (what might you be trying to hide in this seemingly innocent package?); or carrying unusual items that could look suspicious during your luggage scan, like a long-armed stapler or a large candlesticks. They’re among the things most likely to get you flagged by the TSA.
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