You need faster airport security this summer. Your life could depend on it.
We need faster airport security. “Airports are major hubs for pandemic viral spreading,” says Yang Cai, a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. “It is critical to avoid packed areas with restrictions of space capacity.”
Passengers are doing everything they can to avoid standing in long security lines, even as the Transportation Security Administration has implemented new screening rules. Although there are new social distancing measures in place, airport security checks aren’t risk-free.
Air travelers must still place their luggage in bins, sort their belongings and remove their face covering to verify their identity. According to the TSA, 1,528 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and six have died.
“There are fewer people going through security so the lines are much smaller,” says Shane Chapman, senior vice president for airline industry relations at Ovation Travel Group.
Faster airport security is no mystery
No wonder travelers are trying to zip through the TSA line as quickly as possible. The secret to speeding through security hasn’t changed: Pack light, dress right and know the rules. But there’s a lot more to it, from choosing the right clothing to carrying the correct cards.
Fortunately, cutting your time in the security line is easier than ever this summer.
“There are fewer people going through security so the lines are much smaller,” says Shane Chapman, senior vice president for airline industry relations at Ovation Travel Group. So you’ll be getting through security faster than you would have last summer.
Tips for getting through airport security faster
Some strategies for getting through airport security faster have changed
Say what you will about Crocs, but they’re easy to slip on and off as you go through airport security.
Morgan Swank’s favorite shortcut for flying through the line is a piece of plastic or two.
“Get TSA PreCheck,” says Swank, a frequent flier who runs a film production company in Buford, Georgia. “And wear slide-on shoes.”
Slide-on shoes? Yep, you can easily slip out of them during a security check. But don’t forget to wear socks. (Airport floors are gross.)
How has the pandemic changed the strategies for getting through airport security faster?
“In general, do what you did before,” says Bruce McIndoe, founder of WorldAware, a risk-management firm. “Wear a face mask. Carry disinfectant, spare masks, gloves – and as little luggage as possible.”
Want to get through airport security faster?
“As soon as you get to the first security check, have your ID or passport and boarding pass in hand and ready to go,” advises Kyle Hilsabeck, a vice president for a pharmaceutical company in Coralville, Iowa. “If you want to see a line of people behind you collectively groan in annoyance, then spend a couple of minutes digging through your pockets looking for those when it’s your turn to go.” He likes using a soft-sided carry-on with easily accessible exterior pockets. That’s where all the IDs and tickets go.
Dress the part
What you wear matters, says Nick Kamboj, a management consultant from Chicago, who flies often. “Don’t wear belts, jewelry or garments with any metallic fibers or trims,” he says. “If you are wearing cargo pants, ensure that there are no metallic buttons.” Similarly, jackets and hats can slow the screening process, since they all have to go in the bins. If you can leave those at home or pack them in your bags, you’ll be fine.
Oftentimes, if family members’ tickets are booked on the same reservation by with TSA Precheck, they may be able to use PreCheck lanes, too.
Get membership in PreCheck or try CLEAR
At a minimum, consider TSA PreCheck, which usually allows you access to a faster line without being body scanned. You might also try a CLEAR membership, which gives you access to a preferred line and possibly a much shorter time in line and around other people. Jared Alster, the co-founder of a marketing agency in New York, recommends Global Entry, which also gives you access to faster immigration lines. But if you’re just traveling domestically, PreCheck will do.
“PreCheck definitely helps during peak times,” he says. “And usually, even if your travel companions don’t have PreCheck, they will get ‘TSA Pre’ printed on their boarding passes if booked under the same reservation as someone who is registered for PreCheck. That’s a huge benefit if you travel with your family.”
Pack smarter and lighter
Having too much stuff slows you down, say experienced travelers. Take things that are foldable and compact, advises Ciara Smith, a frequent traveler who owns a clothing store in Reno, Nevada. “Pillows that can fold, blankets that roll up, smaller versions of books or a small Kindle,” she says. Remember, you might have to unpack your carry-on bag at the screening area, so don’t try to squeeze too much into your luggage.
Make sure your water bottle is empty by the time you go through airport security.
Follow the new rules and be as touchless as possible
If you’re going through a regular security line, get to know the new rules. Place your electronics, liquids and gels on the tray. You already know how to do that, right? But even the experts sometimes forget. I’ve heard from several experienced travelers who say they fail to empty their water bottles before arriving at the screening area. That creates more delays.
“I make sure my water bottle is empty, and have any carry-on liquids and electronics at the top of my carry-on bag so they can quickly be removed if needed,” says Dan Shogren, who works for a software developer in Dacula, Georgia.
Seconds count when at TSA security checkpoints
If you think it’s remarkable that in 2020 you’re still reading stories about getting through airport security faster, then take a number. The TSA has had 19 years to figure out airport screening. By now, we should be able to walk on the plane without emptying our bags, stepping into one of those awful full-body scanners, or getting frisked.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has made airline passengers aware of every second it takes to get through security. When I lower my mask or get handled by a gloved agent, I wonder: “Am I going to get sick?”
There should be no security line this summer. You should be looking forward to your flight – not dreading an invasive screening experience that could put you in the hospital.
These specifics will make TSA screening go slower
Kids. Nothing slows down screening more than kids. The TSA has special rules for screening kids. Agents often send families with young children to special lines, where they won’t slow down other passengers. If you want a faster screening experience, leave your kids at home. Oh, I’m kidding. But give yourself extra time.
Special needs. If you have an artificial hip or are in a wheelchair, your screening may take longer. Read the TSA rules on travelers with disabilities and medical conditions – and, again, give yourself a little extra time for screening.
Opt-out. If you don’t want to walk through one of the TSA’s full-body scanners, prepare for a long wait. You’ll have to undergo a physical search, better known as a “pat-down.” It could take a while for an agent to become available.
If you encounter any problems when you’re being screened, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Elliott.org team. We’re here to help.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.