Airport security has tightened up in the 21st century. Today, many of us know what it is like to wait hours before we are admitted through the long security lines at major metropolitan airports. On a weekday, you can expect to wait over an hour before making it through TSA checkpoints at airports in New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Toronto.
These days, airport security is taken for granted. Prior to the 1970s, there were minimal security provisions provided at airports and while on the aircraft itself. It wasn’t until the late 1970s when enhanced security techniques were introduced to most airports. And, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, security has ramped up considerably since 2001.
In the U.S., the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) security checkpoints have become a natural part of travelling by air. For those travelling internationally, the Customs and Border Protection Agency is another necessity. No matter what, you are guaranteed to be held up for a while by Customs and TSA when travelling outside or into the U.S.
This is perfectly natural. These security operations play an important role in keeping us all safe. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to speed up wait times. If you are sick and tired of waiting endlessly to get through airport security, check out our hands-on guide to clearing airport security faster than ever before.
If you want to clear airport security in a hurry, you will want to pre-authorize your travel beforehand. For American travelers, be sure to take advantage of the TSA’s PreCheck system. For an $85 membership fee (which lasts 5 years), you can get through security faster by not having to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and jackets.
You can apply for the TSA PreCheck program at their website here. In our experience, the PreCheck system is totally worth the cost. In March 2018, 93% of travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck waited less than five minutes to get through security. Plus, PreCheck allows you to fast-track your way through over 200 airports nationwide.
The Global Entry Program
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is responsible for checking all international travelers that enter and exit the United States. While this is a necessary precaution, it can also take up more time than it really requires. Therefore, the CBP hosts the Global Entry program, which allows pre-approved travelers faster clearance.
To sign up for the Global Entry program, visit the CBP website here. If you are approved as a trusted traveler, you will enjoy speedy access in and out of the country while regular travelers wait in line. At designated kiosks, you will insert your machine-readable passport and biometrics so that the CBP can recognize you as a low-risk traveler.
Know What to Pack
This one seems a bit obvious, but it still needs to be said. If you want to clear security in a hurry, make sure you do not overpack. Bringing too many personal belongings in your carry-on or checked luggage is a surefire way to delay your clearance. Instead, pack light whenever possible.
Some of the more obvious items to keep at home are liquids and electronics. If you can, keep the shampoo, conditioner, and bodywash at home. Instead, buy travel-sized cosmetics and hair care products at your destination. Likewise, make sure you limit the number of laptops and unnecessary accessories you bring with you, like back-up phone chargers.
Get Your Documentation Ready
I always have a hard time sticking to this rule. I find that whenever I’m in line at the airport, I always fumble through my pockets once I am asked to show my passport and ID. Instead of making a fool of yourself like I often do, always keep these documents handy. It helps to keep them accessible in your wallet or safely tucked away in your back pocket.
This rule also applies to other necessary items, like your credit card and your boarding pass. It is always a good idea to keep these items on hand and separated from non-essential items.
Map It Out
If you want to make it through your security check faster, you will need to find the security check faster. If you are a frequent flier, chances are you already know exactly where to go in your local airport. However, most out-of-town travelers have no idea how to get around their departing airport. This can cause a lot of undue stress and wasted time for those rushing to catch their flight.
To prevent confusion, always check out a top-down map of your airport before arriving. This way, you can find out exactly where airport security can be found. While you’re at it, you can also check for shuttle bus pickup locations, restaurants, washrooms, and baggage check.
Like the Oracle at Delphi once remarked, you should know yourself. This rings equally true at modern-day airports as it once did in ancient Athens. Once you get in line for your TSA check, take a mental note of everything that you are wearing and holding. If there are any metals, remove them. If there are any liquids, remove those too.
Be sure to check all the common problem areas before you make it to the front of the line. These areas include your feet, wrist, and jacket. Essentially, make sure that your shoes, watch, and cell phone do not set off any alarms unnecessarily.
No Kids Allowed
At many airport security checkpoints, the security officer will ask you to pick between two line-ups. Automatically, most of us simply choose the shorter line. However, looks can be deceiving. Rather than just doing a basic length test, quickly scan the lines for children and strollers. Choose the line with fewer signs of small children.
One of the biggest culprits when it comes to airport security slow-downs are small kids. This is especially true of infants in walkers or strollers. Since they are unable to help themselves, their parents must take extra time to guide them through the security processes. Usually, these tasks take up more time than they otherwise would if the child were an adult.
If possible, wear slip-on shoes. If you are on a business trip, chances are you can’t pull off Birkenstocks at the airport. But if you headed on vacation you should always wear slip-ons or sneakers to the airport. You know that you will have to remove your shoes at the front of the line, so you might as well wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Under no circumstances should you ever harass, demean, or intimidate airport security officers. This is never acceptable. And, in most cases, it will only delay your clearance through security and hold up the line for everybody behind you. Don’t be that guy. Instead, wear a smile and always treat airport staff with kindness and respect. After all, they are there for your benefit.
Don’t Take Any Risks
This one should go without saying, but it must be said. Never attempt to take anything illicit on an aircraft. This includes illegal drugs, weapons, or other prohibited substances such as aerosols. These substances are strictly barred from airports and should never be brought on their premises.
Sounds like common sense. Well, it’s not. Every year, thousands of overzealous travelers are caught with illicit substances at airports around the world. This is because many assume they can outsmart airport security and hide them somewhere on their person. This simply does not work. You should never assume that you can bypass airport security measures.
Fly Premium Class
While this option is not always available to all of us, it should be kept in mind for all those in a hurry to get on their flight. Typically, airlines offer premium class seating for those passengers who want first access through security and priority boarding. Elite status members like American Airlines Priority AAccess and Delta Airlines SkyPriority are offered these luxuries.
For the most dedicated, it might be worth it to pick up a CLEAR membership. CLEAR is one of the latest innovations in fast-tracking airport security. For only $15 per month, CLEAR members are given an all-in-one electronic pass that allows them to leave their ID in their bags and skip the regular security lines.
CLEAR uses cutting-edge technology to authenticate their member’s identities. They use fingerprints and other biometrics to determine who you are. Once your identity has been confirmed, you can easily access their own private CLEAR lanes at most airports in the United States. If you’re interested in buying a membership, check out the official CLEAR website.