Hoping to fly through airport security? Think again.
The head of the Transportation Security Administration warns that travelers should expect long lines to continue through this year’s travel season, and possibly beyond. But don’t let the delays put a damper on your trip–follow these tips to survive the long lines and get to your destination on time.
Have your paperwork ready
Keep your boarding pass and passport handy while waiting in line. Consider a passport holder or travel wallet to keep important documents organized and easy to get to. When you reach the TSA agent, have your passport open to the photo page so help expedite the process. It’s also a good idea to hang onto your phone so you can find out about flight updates or delays, and kill some time while you wait by doing a little research on your destination.
Know what to wear, and what to leave home
First rule of flying: dress for comfort and convenience. Wear layers that can be easily removed, and avoid items with metal studs or buttons as well as any unnecessary jewelry. If you can, skip the belt and pack it in your suitcase. Empty your pockets while waiting in line, and place any valuables you can’t live without in your carry-on bag. It may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ve all been stuck behind the person at the metal detector who’s forgotten to do all these things.
You’ll need to remove your shoes at security, but you know the drill. Opt for shoes without laces such as slip-on sneakers and avoid sandals, loafers, or anything that requires you to go sockless. If you’re wondering why, check out these reasons why you shouldn’t walk through airport security barefoot. And if sandals are an absolute must, bring a pair of socks to put on before you pass through security.
Pack (and unpack) smart
Don’t forget the liquids rule. Store any liquids and gels in travel size containers (3.4 oz. max) and keep them together in a resalable plastic bag. It’s wise to declare these items to a TSA officer as you pass through inspection to avoid any hang-ups. Necessary medications are exempt from size limits but should be clearly marked.
Avoid bringing electronics in your carry-on that you won’t need during your flight. If you bring a laptop computer, remove it from your bag and place it in its own bin for inspection. To help keep your belongings organized and easy to reach within your carry-on, consider using handy items such as compression sacs, packing cubes and mesh bags.
Give yourself extra time
Allow yourself additional time to navigate long security lines. Most carriers require you to be at the gate 30 minutes before takeoff. While the general recommendation is to arrive at the airport 2 hours before departure for international flights, we suggest you give yourself an extra hour during peak travel season. Arriving at the airport three hours prior to your scheduled flight will give you enough time to check your bags, pass through security, and maybe grab a bite to eat or stock up on snacks before taking off. To get a better idea of how much time you’ll need, you can look up approximate security wait times for your airport online.
Enroll in a program
TSA Pre Check and Global Entry are trusted traveler programs that allow you to use a separate security line after being pre-screened by Homeland Security. The separate line is shorter and doesn’t require you to remove your shoes, jacket, belt, liquids and gels or laptop for inspection. You can also skip the full-body scanner.
U.S. citizens traveling abroad will want to consider Global Entry as it automatically qualifies you for Pre Check and allows you to bypass customs on your way home. To enroll in one of these programs, you need to complete a pre-enrollment online and pay a non-refundable fee ($85 for Pre Check and $100 for Global Entry), and then schedule an appointment at your local Enrollment Center. It’s quick, relatively simple, and worth the effort if you’re a frequent traveler.
Take a deep breath
If all else fails, remember to breathe. Try not to let the stress of your surroundings get to you and instead focus on the excitement of your trip and what lies ahead. After all, travel is a learning experience – and a few unexpected bumps along the way are part of the journey. So enjoy your time to do as you please – chat with a neighbor, read up on your destination, listen to a podcast… meditate. Standing in line isn’t always fun, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the wait.
Do you have a tip or travel experience to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.