Whether you’re just about to fly out for a summer vacation trip, or planning one for the holidays later in the year, you should know that you’re likely to get an unpleasant greeting once you get to the airport: long lines at the security checkpoints.
The delay will definitely cause some stress, and could cost you some money if you miss your flight. But here are a few ways you make sure you get through quickly, painlessly, and inexpensively as possible.
Several factors are aligning to cause those long lines at the airports. The first is the number of travelers. The Airlines for America industry group estimates that 231 million travelers will be flying in the U.S. from June 1st to August 31st, a 4% increase over last year’s record number.
All those fliers are exacerbating the situation by trying to avoid airline fees for checked luggage, and are instead bringing more bags and small suitcases on board (which of course need to be screened and checked one at a time).
There is also a reduced number of agents available to handle those fliers and their carry-on items. Depending on whom you believe, this situation is caused by a lack of funding, burnout among current employees, a low number of available qualified applicants, or inefficient staffing and training.
Another reason the screening process may be taking longer is that after an undercover study conducted last year found that several screeners weren’t able to catch some dangerous items planted by researchers, the screeners may have been directed to be more thorough.
There are steps you should take to ensure that you make it through the screening process, and don’t delay your fellow travelers.
Start by knowing what the Transportation Security Administration says you can (and can’t) bring on to the plane. Go to tinyurl.com/tsafacts to find out what is permitted, and in what form and size.
You should also plan on getting to the airport as soon as possible, so that hopefully you’re waiting in the terminal after getting cleared, rather than stuck in line wondering if you’ll make it through before your flight takes off.
The TSA suggests getting to the airport at least two hours before your departure time for domestic flights, and three hours in advance if you’re traveling internationally.
You can use that same TSA website to see if there are any delays at a particular airport, and how long it might be. Another website to use is whatsbusy.com/airport, or download the app for your smartphone.
While you’re on your smartphone, sign up to follow airports of interest on Twitter. Many send out regular notices as to how long passengers are waiting in security lines.
Paying for preapproval
It’s possible to spend a little time and money to hopefully avoid the lines when you fly. The TSA Pre or other “trusted traveler” programs allow you skip the most intrusive aspects of the security process, and use a special dedicated screening line at many airports.
To enroll, first go online to tsa.gov/precheck and enroll. You will then have to meet in person with a representative located at one of several hundred locations around the country.
Once approved, you’ll have to pay a nominal fee depending on which pre-approved program you choose. For instance, the TSA Pre designation costs $85 for a five year period.
But some applicants have said that the approval process can take several weeks to complete, and the location of the in-person meeting was inconvenient.
Those who have received approval have complained that sometimes the “special screening lane” reserved for approved travelers at certain airports isn’t open or staffed, and they have to instead huddle with the unapproved masses in line.
With security line headaches added to the normal hassles associated with flying, you certainly couldn’t be blamed if you decided to drive to your destination instead.