With more people flying than ever before, it’s not surprising to see reports of long lines of people waiting in airport security lines. Although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says long security lines are inevitable, especially during the peak flying season, there are a number of ways to reduce the amount time it takes to get through the screening process. While not every solution is applicable to the casual flier, here are five tips to help get through airport security as quickly as possible.
TSA Pre Check

For frequent fliers or for those who desire the most efficient way possible to get through airport security, TSA’s Pre Check (PreCheck) program is the way to go. First enacted in October 2011, the program allows qualified members of the public departing from a U.S. airport to move through security lines much faster without requiring them to remove certain personal items like shoes and laptops. In order to participate in the program, individuals must complete an online application form or complete one in person at an application center. The applicant must then appear in person, bring required documentation like a U.S. passport or driver’s license and pay a $85 fee that’s valid for five years. Participants of TSA’s Pre Check program are then eligible to enter a designated security line that’s typically much smaller and much faster. The TSA Pre Check program is valid for domestic and international flights departing from a U.S. airport.

The TSA also posts a real time record of wait times for security screening at all major domestic airports. Travelers are encouraged to use the MyTSA mobile app for iOS or Android devices or visit the MyTSA site for up to date information. MyTSA also offers information on flight delays at all major domestic airports.

Jet Blue (credit: Randy Yagi)

Jet Blue (credit: Randy Yagi)

Other Expedited Services

Airline Credit Cards

In addition the TSA PreCheck program, travelers have other options in which to get through security faster. However, most are tailored to frequent fliers who are able to achieve elite status from a respective airline carrier’s credit card or purchase expedited security access as part of the airfare. The list of airlines which offer expedited security access as part of credit card holder benefits include United’s MileagePlus, American’s AAdvantage, Delta’s SkyMiles Medallion and Alaska’s elite Mileage Plan. Additionally, cardholders are also eligible for several other benefits, including priority boarding and preferred seating. Of all major airline carriers, only JetBlue currently offers, in several select cities, expedited security access as a stand-alone optional fare add-in known as Even More Speed or for travelers who purchase an Even More Space ticket.

Global Entry

The Global Entry program offers expedited entry into the United States from certain international destinations. A program managed by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection service, members enter the U.S. through automated kiosks at select airports instead of in person and are also eligible for TSA Pre✔. The program is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of select countries including the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also approves other Trusted Traveler Programs, such as NEXUS, which allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing when entering the U.S. and Canada.


One last expedited security method is CLEAR, a web-based business headquartered in New York which currently has an annual membership of $179 or less than $15 per month. Described as the fastest and most predictable way to get through airport security, CLEAR has a similar screening process for prospective applicants, with in person registration, fingerprinting and valid government issued ID. However, CLEAR is available at only select airports across the country, but service is expected to grow and currently includes Austin, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami and San Francisco. Additionally, family members may be added on for $50 annually and children under 18 are free. Since its inception, CLEAR has proven to be a reliable way to expedite the security process, especially for business travelers and other frequent fliers.

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Airport Check In (credit: Randy Yagi)

Airport Check In (credit: Randy Yagi)

Check In Baggage 

Although nearly all airline carriers will charge a fee for checked in luggage, it’s all but certain an individual can move through the security screening much faster by checking in bags. Of course, the process of checking in either curbside or at the service counter presents the likelihood of standing in another line, but each individual should consider the pros and cons of carrying vs. checking in bags and its associated fees. But even after going through the security line, it will be much easier to get to the boarding gate simply without the extra weight to carry around. However, unless it’s absolutely necessary to visit the service counter to check in a bag, the more efficient approach is to check in bags with the airline’s curbside service, where smaller lines are the norm. If baggage fees do present a problem, especially for frequent fliers, it might help to consider applying for a credit card with a free checked baggage allowance, such as with Citi’s AAdvantage Card for Visa and MasterCard, Alaska Airlines’ Visa Signature, United Airlines’ MileagePlus Explorer for Chase credit cards and Delta SkyMiles from American Express.

Have Travel Documents Ready

Regardless of whether or not a traveler has expedited security access privileges, it’s important to have the necessary travel documents ready. Fumbling through a briefcase, wallet, purse etc. when approaching the TSA officer at the security checkpoint not only causes a delay that traveler but also for anyone else waiting in line. To prevent this from happening, all travelers should have their travel documents (boarding pass and passport and/or valid driver’s license) ready before reaching the front of the line. While a possible solution is to bring along a boarding pass holder, it’s still necessary to have the documents on the ready at the security checkpoint.

Airport Travelers (credit: Randy Yagi)

Airport Travelers (credit: Randy Yagi)

Wear The Right Clothes

It should go without saying, but some travelers still continue to force others to wait longer in a security line merely because of what they wear. Travelers going through the standard security line should come to the airport wearing shoes that can be removed easily and clothing items like jackets and coats that can easily be placed in bins. Moreover, if everyone in line removed most, if not all, required items, like belts, jewelry, watches and shoes before reaching the bins and conveyor belt, the line could move much more quickly and efficiently. Wearing items like laced boots that are hard to remove and clothes with metal buttons are a major faux pas and will only cause a delay for everyone in line. Additionally, travelers should remember to remove any liquid carry on items or other items that might flag TSA staff for additional screening.
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Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com