Who hasn’t made it to the airport in plenty of time only to be confronted by a seemingly endless airport security line? These days you don’t need to be a diplomatic courier or platinum-status flyer to breeze through. With a few savvy strategies, you can cut your wait time and spend more time picking up a pre-flight snack.
• Dress for success. Metal detectors can really slow you down, especially if you are bejeweled to the max. For a speedier security check, pack your bling in hand luggage (it’s not insured if it is in the cargo hold). “Before you head to the airport, put all of the items that might trigger an alarm — metal jewelry, wallet, cell phone, key and coins — into an easy-to-access pocket of your carry-on,” says Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman based in Miami. “Then, after you clear security you can put it back on.” Not only are you less likely to drop or misplace something, but jewelry has been known to get caught in X-ray machine rollers or fall through cracks.
Reconsider high heels (which often contain metal) as these may also set off an alarm. Slip-on shoes are your best bet. Don’t wear a belt, unless there is no way to keep your pants up (we don’t want you to show up on an embarrassing YouTube video). Other metal-containing items that could cause issues include cufflinks, clothes with big metal buttons or studs, and body piercings.
• New tech, you bet. Advanced imaging technology (AIT) including millimeter wave machines have made it much easier and quicker for passengers to clear security. The trick to getting in and out? Take everything out of your pockets, and we mean everything, even facial tissue. If you can stuff everything into your carry-on bag, do so before you go through security. If not, tell the TSA officer what you have and hold it in your hand. Also, if you have any artificial joints such as knees, hips or shoulders, let the TSA officer who checks your ID know and head for the line that uses an AIT machine. Since you will likely set off a metal detector, this saves you time waiting for secondary screening.
• Pay your way. You may think only business and first-class passengers get to cut to the head of the security line. Not so. Several airlines now sell a “fast pass” through security. United Airlines Premier Access starts at $9 per flight segment and gives you priority at check-in, security and boarding points. Likewise you get extra perks including special security lanes and/or access by purchasing a Southwest Airlines Business Select ticket or Frontier Airlines Classic Plus fare.
• Bag a bargain. Be sure to have a stock of plastic bags at home. Remember the 3-1-1 rule. If you can squeeze it, squirt it, pour it or spray it, it must be less than 3.4 ounces and packed into a one quart-sized clear, plastic zip-top bag. Only one bag is allowed per passenger. For prescription medication or baby formula in a larger container, separate it from the rest and notify the TSA officer before it goes through the scanner. A new rule for you souvenir fans: Snow globes are now allowed, as long as they are not much bigger than a tennis ball and will fit into your 3-1-1 baggie.
• Check, check and pre-check. For $100 (good for five years) you can join Global Entry (globalentry.gov). Operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the program allows Global Entry members to pass through immigration and customs using automated kiosks that can scan passports and fingerprints at dozens of U.S. and Canadian airports. Global Entry members now qualify for TSA PreCheck, available in 40 airports including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. Most of the time you’ll be “cleared” to use the special lane. To keep the bad guys on their toes, TSA randomly sends some passengers through the regular screening process.
Assuming you get the nod, you’ll breeze through a special lane in a few minutes. That means shoes, jacket and belt stay on, and there is no need to drag out your laptop or 3-1-1 baggie. Just walk through a metal detector while your baggage is X-rayed.
One caveat: If you are using TSA PreCheck, then you must use the designated checkpoint for your airline (currently only D2 for American in Miami and D for Delta at Fort Lauderdale).
TSA PreCheck is also available to select frequent flyers of participating airlines.
The program has become so popular that starting later this year, U.S. citizens will be able to enroll directly in TSA PreCheck by applying online, then visiting an enrollment site to provide ID and fingerprints. Cost is $85 for five years. The two initial enrollment sites are Washington (Dulles) and Indianapolis, with plans to expand. But if you don’t want to wait for Miami to get an enrollment site or you travel internationally, for $15 more Global Entry is the way to go right now.
• Say ex-queues me. In a conventional line, choose whom you stand behind wisely. Give families with young children and strollers a wide berth, as the latter will need to be dismantled for the metal detector. Look for lines of passengers who appear to be business travelers. Odds are they know the drill and will move quickly.
• Corral the kids. If you have young children in tow, try to pack everything in one easy-to-access bag that you can put through the machine. Strollers and car seats must be folded and placed on the belt, too. You’ll need to do this while holding your baby, so practice at home first.
• Know the poop on pets. If Fido or Fluffy is along for the flight, he has to clear security, too. And no, no, no, you don’t put her through the X-ray machine. “Be prepared to take your pet out of its carrier (which goes through X-ray), remove the leash and/or collar and carry the animal through the metal detector,” says Koshetz. “If you can find a plastic leash without any metal, that’s best, but even I haven’t had much luck getting one.”
• Age has its privileges. Passengers 75 and older can leave on light jackets and shoes during checkpoint screening. If you do set off an alarm, you can take an additional pass through the Advance Imaging Technology to clear any anomalies detected during screening — like a do-over. Procedures are similar for travelers 12 and younger, who do not need to remove their shoes. In addition, kids 12 and younger are allowed through TSA PreCheck lanes with eligible adult passengers.
• Don’t follow the crowd. Just because everyone is using a security checkpoint doesn’t mean you have to join the throngs. Look for alternatives. For example, if you are flying American out of Miami International Airport, which uses checkpoint E, and it is swamped, you can use any of the D checkpoints and still end up in the North Terminal. The same holds true for the South Terminal. You can use Checkpoint H, J Central or J South.
• And, hang a left. Faced with a choice between right and left line, most people (for no good reason) tend to go right, even if the line appears slightly longer. Take advantage of this behavior by ignoring your impulses and going left.