It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. When traveling by air, you’ll have to pass through security. And for that reason—not to mention your own peace of mind—you may as well not sweat it. Use these tips to waltz through airport security fast.
Enroll in Programs
There are a few programs you can enroll in to make your time spent going through security minimal and stress-free. One of these programs is CLEAR.
CLEAR allows you to bypass the crowds in the security line all with a swipe of your CLEARcard. This takes the stress out of trying to predict how long security lines will be upon your arrival and then having to wait in them when they’re much longer than you expected. As an added bonus, all TripIt Pro members get a discounted CLEAR membership as a part of their VIP benefits. You can learn more here.
Additionally, there’s TSA Pre and Global Entry, also known as “Trusted Traveler” program, which allows you to use a separate line through security because you’re pre-screened by Homeland Security. The separate line is shorter and you don’t have to remove your shoes and belts or pull out computers and liquids.
The enrollment process isn’t difficult. First, pre-enroll online. The non-refundable application fee is $85 for TSA Pre or $100 for Global Entry. Eventually, you’ll be assigned an appointment for a personal interview and fingerprinting; usually, held at your closest airport. Once approved, you’re given a “Trusted Traveler” number that can be entered into your passenger profile for your airline. All future boarding passes will indicate you can use the TSA Pre line.
Note that Global Entry includes TSA Pre and provides the added benefit of being able to return to the U.S. from a foreign country and skip the immigration lines. You’ll have to go to a kiosk where you scan your passport and fingerprints and print out a receipt. Then you go through a separate line, show the receipt and you’re on your way.
Even with TSA Pre, be sensible. Pack as if you’ll need to pass through security in the traditional manner. Not all airports will have the fast lane set up, or you may not be able to access your particular gate from the special lanes. It’s best if you can find out where the lines are via online airport maps before you get to the airport. This way, you can be dropped off at the closest door.
Check a Bag When Necessary
In most cases, traveling with a carry-on only makes your travels much less stressful. However, if you’re traveling with unapproved items like bigger lotions and liquids, an army knife, cuticle clippers or corkscrews, security is far easier if you check your bag.
When Checking a Bag, Limit Your Carry-on
How much do you want to lug through an airport anyway? Carry on only what you need to access as you travel and anything you can’t do without at your destination. That probably includes your electronics and chargers, reading material, travel documents, headphones, essential medicines and toiletries. I also advise you to carry a change of underwear—just in case your luggage is delayed.
Pack these items that are of no interest to TSA at the bottom—along with that underwear we don’t want to see when your bag is opened at security.
Before security, empty your pockets. It’s a lot easier to shove your phone, passport, wallet and change into a small outside pocket of your carry-on than to fumble with a tray at the conveyor belt. It’s easy to pull them out of the outside pocket after security where you have plenty of room.
As for your laptop, most carry-on bags now have a special exterior zipped pocket making it easy to slide your laptop in and out without disturbing anything else. You don’t want to dislodge all your packing when you grab for your computer.
Most people will advise wearing slip-on shoes through security. If I’m wearing tied shoes, I loosen them before I get to security so I can slip them on and off with ease. But always ask before you remove your shoes. Many places around the world don’t require it.
Remember that belts, buttons and zippers, along with hip replacements and underwire bras, are liable to set off the machines. Some jewelry, watches and even zippy traveling pants are asking for attention, so don’t wear those flashy heavy metal items. For men, special fabric belts with plastic buckles are a great alternative.
Women’s makeup (little tubes and pencils and lipsticks) gathered in a pouch generally isn’t significant enough to be included in the “liquids” equation. So your liquid allotment, then, can be restricted to shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen or contact lens solution. Keep that one-quart bag of liquids together and accessible throughout your travels, and you won’t have any trouble. If you must have drinking water, pack an empty reusable bottle and fill it up after security, when your hands are free.
Avoid use of hand lotions, especially those containing glycerin, before going through security. If you’re stopped and scanned, these can show up as suspicious. If you’re re-entering the country and using Global Entry fingerprint scans, the lotion can mar the results.
If you’re pulled aside for additional screening, try not to roll your eyes or make snide remarks. Make eye contact with your friendly TSA agent, be sure you know where all your bags are and calmly allow the agent to inspect your bag. You won’t be allowed to reach in to grab anything, so just stand by patiently. You probably already know what forbidden item you carelessly tossed into your carry-on. Next time, you won’t make the same mistake.
Kristin Henning blogs about her travels at TravelPast50.com