As the summer travel season begins, airports across the nation are feeling the strain of TSA staffing shortages. An influx of summertime travelers and the failure of the TSA PreCheck program to catch on have contributed to the problem, causing longer lines than usual at airports all across the country. With an estimated 740 million passengers expected to pass through American airports by the end of this year, you can expect long TSA lines during your travels this summer.
Before the peak of the summer rush even begins, travelers are taking to social media to share images of long lines clogging our nation’s airports under the hashtag #iHatetheWait. Don’t let their images scare you too much—with some preparation and a lot of patience, you can avoid lines, or at least avoid the rush while traveling this summer.
The best and easiest way to avoid the panic of long security lines is to arrive early for your flight. The TSA recommends passengers arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours before domestic flights and at least three hours early for international flights. If your airport is known to be busy, like travel hubs Atlanta and Miami, allow yourself even more time to pass through. Waiting longer in the terminal may be an annoyance, but it beats the alternative: missing your flight. Take advantage of the airport’s amenities if time allows by enjoying a meal, some shopping, or even getting a manicure.
Check in Beforehand and Avoid Checking a Bag
More travelers means more lines everywhere, not just in security. Avoid waiting to check in for your flight by doing so online in advance. Print your boarding pass or ensure it’s accessible on your phone, so you can get right in the security line as soon as you arrive (provided you don’t have any bags to check).
Get TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is a program that allows eligible travelers to pass through an expedited security screening during their travels. With TSA PreCheck, passengers do not need to remove their shoes, laptops, belts, or liquids. These lines are typically shorter and move more quickly since the screening process is less cumbersome.
Travelers interested in this program must go through an application process that verifies that they are low-risk travelers. Applicants pay a fee of $85 for five years in the program. The application process takes about 2-3 weeks and can be completed through other DHS programs, like Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI. Once you are approved for the program, you will receive a Known Traveler Number, which is used when booking flights to designate TSA PreCheck status.
TSA PreCheck screening lines are available at more than 160 airports across the US, servicing 12 airlines. Be sure to check that your airline of choice is among them!
Book Flights at Off-Peak Times
Off-peak flights aren’t only oftentimes cheaper—they’re also typically times when fewer people are flying. Hopefully, that translates to shorter TSA lines. Off-peak days of the week for flying are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Off peak times of day to fly are before 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
By packing well and with intention, you can cut down the time it takes you to get through security and help make the line shorter for the people behind you. Make sure your boarding pass and ID or passport are easily accessible for inspection and wear shoes that are easy to slip off quickly. Do your research so you understand what you can and cannot bring through security so that you’re not held up during the process. Pack items that must go in bins, like your toiletries or laptop, in an easy-to-reach space. Some luggage pieces have special sleeves and additional pockets to make getting through the security checkpoint easy. Being prepared for the screening process will help you get through faster.