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How to Prepare for Longer TSA Lines This Summer
Don't let crushing security lines spoil your travel plans.
Avoid long lines with these expert tips.(Getty Images)
It's no secret that outrageously long security lines are bringing fliers' frustration levels to a boil. With slow-moving security lines wreaking havoc on thousands of passengers' travel plans in recent weeks, coupled with the fast-approaching peak-season rush, the situation isn't looking good for summer travelers. And while Congress has approved the Transportation Security Administration's request to provide the agency with $34 million in funding to support the hiring of an additional 768 TSA screeners by mid-June, security checkpoints are still expected to be slow this year.
Still, there are ways to expedite the check-in process, get through security faster and fly on. We caught up with industry experts to bring you savvy tips for dealing with stagnant security lines over the next few months.
Arrive Two Hours Ahead of Your Flight
Given the longer-than-usual wait times, it's a smart idea to carve out extra hours, rather than minutes, to get through security. "Our strong economy means air carriers are enjoying record travel volume, which is resulting in heavier than normal volumes of travelers at our nation's airports – some with double digit increases over last summer," a TSA spokesperson wrote in a statement to U.S. News. Beyond these factors, security lines are also reaching staggering lengths because "more people are flying sans checked bags altogether to avoid costly baggage fees," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "Every time a carry-on gets flagged for additional review, this slows down the security line for everyone," he adds.
The TSA encourages travelers to allot two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international flights for security screenings this summer. It's also advantageous to browse real-time alerts through social media platforms and airport websites, and shed light on epic waits by snapping a picture and using the hashtag #IHatetheWait. You can use the My TSA app to view up-to-the-minute wait times or tweet at the TSA's official customer service handle, @AskTSA, to stay updated on current security lines. If you're departing from a major hub, you may be able to scope out current wait times at different security checkpoints. At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, you can check out wait times in real time online through the airport's Trak-a-Line system. If you are delayed or you didn't arrive early enough for your departure, it's a smart idea to alert the security staff of your status, Klee says, noting that in some instances you'll be moved to the front of the line. And if you're at risk of missing your flight, begin the communication process early, he says. "Get on your phone and let them know what your situation is. They might be able to get the ball rolling and come up with a better solution for you," he adds.
Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Another Trusted Traveler Program
With flight prices this summer at a seven-year low, an increasing number of flights and the TSA and Congress' decision last year to reduce the number of screeners to account for scaling up TSA PreCheck, there are a variety of factors that have caused lines to balloon. "Of the very few options available to summer travelers, the best is enrolling in TSA's PreCheck program, which costs $85 for five years," says Tim Winship, editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com.
Gary Leff, co-founder of MilePoint and author of frequent-flier site View from the Wing, echoes similar sentiments, recommending PreCheck and other expedited security programs such as Global Entry (for $100) or NEXUS (an expedited clearance to Canada for a $50 charge) as great options to minimize hassle and cut wait times. "Different people are eligible for different things," he notes, but if you fly more than once a year, PreCheck is worth the cost, he says.
Invest in an Affiliated Rewards Credit Card
If you carry certain co-branded credit cards, you'll be rewarded with access to priority screening lanes. The Platinum Card from American Express and Citi Prestige cards, for example, give cardholders priority access that allows them to enter a faster security line with their boarding pass at certain airports. While American Express cardholders can enjoy access to priority lanes for Delta flights at select airports, Citi Prestige cardholders can opt for a quicker screening lane for American Airlines flights. Plus, signing up for these cards allows you to get reimbursed for the enrollment fees for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry and NEXUS, Leff explains.
Rely on Reward Membership Perks or Buy Priority Screening Access
Many frequent flier programs also give higher-tier rewards program members priority screening access as an elite status benefit. And some airlines afford the luxury of priority security lanes if you purchase premium-cabin tickets, Leff says. If you're traveling with companions, "the key is knowing that you either need to show up early or pay a premium," he adds. But even if you do have status, you're not guaranteed to breeze through a special security, Klee cautions. "While some airlines do offer this as a perk of being an elite member, and it’s nice to have a priority line for VIPs, the special screening areas themselves are still no faster than the screening that the general population has to go through," he says, pointing out that these lines are also operated by the TSA.
A variety of carriers also offer travelers the chance to take advantage of priority security lanes where available. JetBlue, for instance, is currently offering fliers who purchase Even More Space seats expedited security at all major New York airports as well as top hubs such as Boston's Logan International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Even if you opt not to upgrade for more legroom, you can pay a small fee for expedited security, known as an Even More Speed option. United Airlines offers a comparable option – Premier Access – for a $15 fee that gives passengers access to priority lanes.
Fly When Others Are Not
"If your schedule allows, be a contrarian: Fly on off-peak times and days to secondary airports," Winship says. It's important to keep in mind that there are far fewer lines in the afternoon versus the morning, so timing it right is key, Leff says. You can also turn to trusted resources, like the airport's app for terminal maps or GateGuru, after you've made it through security to reach your gate as quickly as possible. "It’s always a good idea to get your airline app so you can see in real time what flight delays might be affecting your route," Klee says.
Pack Strategically and Stay Organized
Rather than fumbling around for your toiletries and laptop when you reach the security belt, come to the airport prepared. Winship advises wearing shoes you can easily slip off and having your laptop outside its case by the time you've reached the front of the line. "Make sure you're not carrying an item that you shouldn't be," Leff says. For instance, ensure that you don't have water bottles or liquids that exceed the 3.4 ounce TSA-approved travel size. He also recommends keeping your license or passport and boarding pass in hand, emptying your pockets and to avoid wearing metal to dodge getting screened again.
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