Cindy Graham, creator of travel site Blue Bag Nomads, advises removing items from a bag that are unusual and might require further inspection. "It's just a common sense thing to do, but I follow this rule religiously now: When in doubt, take it out," says Graham, who was held up at a screening checkpoint in Cancun, Mexico, by an unusual pair of souvenir salt shakers. "It took 20 minutes for them to find them in the bag, question us, and then release us."
16 Ways to Get Through TSA Airport Security Faster
With record numbers of travelers passing through airports that must be on guard for crime and terrorism, getting through security screening processes to board a plane or reenter the country is never fun. And it's rarely quick, unless you're flying a private jet. Fortunately, there are a few things all of us can do to shave a few minutes off of the Transportation Security Administration screening routine and make travel less frustrating.
Often the first and most obvious recommendation of travel experts is signing up for TSA PreCheck. A five-year membership costs $85 and allows travelers to speed through security without having to remove shoes, a jacket, or belt, or taking laptops out of bags. In February, 93 percent of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes, the TSA says. About 200 airports and 47 airlines provide this option.
Another way to speed up the screening process (for those who can afford it) is to get airline elite status. Even some travelers with mid-tier and high-tier status can use priority screening lines along with first-class passengers, and the perk often includes traveling companions. Don't fly enough to earn elite status? There are other ways to get it, such as through airline credit cards.
Various airlines sell expedited security screening, including JetBlue's Even More Speed, which the airline promises will get travelers into security checkpoint fast lanes in a long list of cities around the country and is available when buying an Even More Space seat or separately. Similarly, United offers Premier Access. Starting at $15, passengers can access a dedicated airport check-in line and exclusive security lanes at select airports.
Operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Global Entry expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers arriving into the United States. Membership costs $100 and requires a rigorous screening via online application and in-person interview, after which travelers can enter through automated airport kiosks.
If you can bear the thought of parting with them, and trust that the airline will get them back in one piece, consider checking electronics such as camcorders and DVD players, eliminating the need to remove them from cases for screening. There are other ways to pass time at an airport.
Are you traveling with young children? Did they pack their own carry-on luggage? Trish McDermott, co-founder of baby gear renter Babierge.com and a family travel expert, recommends checking children's luggage for TSA-prohibited items before going to the airport. At the very least, check them before getting to a security checkpoint.
CLEAR is not the same as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry -- a fact many travelers don't grasp. A $15 monthly fee gets members through security lines in five minutes or less via dedicated lanes to security screening checkpoints. A bonus: Children under 18 can use the lane for free when accompanied by a family member in the program. "It takes mere minutes to sign up, which you can do at any airport that has CLEAR," says travel writer Nikki Pepper, former editor of the travel website Oh the People You Meet. "Once approved, your CLEAR membership gets you to the front of the line -- even the PreCheck line -- with a simple fingerprint verification."
Having taken 20 trips in 12 months, travel tipster Jen Ruiz has her airport screening routine down to a science. Among her top suggestions is to keep liquids in their own bag. "I remove them from my carry-on even if I'm not required to," Ruiz says. "I've found that this is the main target that TSA is a stickler for at the X-ray point of security, even more so than electronics. Having an errant water bottle in a bag has caused me to be subject to an additional search, and if I don't separate my liquids I almost always have to stop, wait for them to go through my bag, and assess whether each item meets the 3.5-ounce restriction."
This one is just a no-brainer: Shoes that are easier to slip on and off save time. Put the lace-up sneakers in the suitcase and opt for loafers or ballet flats, or some other easy-to-slip-on shoe. "Slip-ons will save you precious seconds when needing to put your shoes back on as your belongings pile up at the end of the X-ray conveyor belt," Pepper says.
Get organized, says entrepreneur and frequent traveler Syed Gilani. "Put your mobile phone, wallet, or anything you don't need in your jacket or bag so when you take off your jacket, you don't have to offload each item in a separate bin and then try to collect in the end."
Traveling for the holidays or other gift-giving event? Don't pre-wrap gifts, Graham advises. The items may not make it through security in their wrapping, and if something has to be unwrapped, it means further delay. "If you need to wrap it before you arrive at your next stop, bring along a gift bag and tissue paper. No scissors or tape are needed," Graham says .
Travelers who don't have TSA PreCheck and must go through regular security lines should avoid outfits with multiple belts or accessories, says Eric Anthony, managing editor of the travel and lifestyle blog Houston on the Cheap. "Skip all the excessive jewelry too." Belts are time-consuming to take on and off, and jewelry may trigger a screening alarm. If a belt is necessary, try to take it off long before getting to the front of the line.
Food being carried for babies or young children will need to be inspected. Put all food in a single bag to keep the inspection quick, advises Jamie Harper, family travel blogger at Fly by the Seat of Our Pants. "If all the food is in the same bag, you can easily unload it into a box. TSA can check everything at the one time and then you can throw it all back into your bag," Harper says.
Heading through airport security with a stroller, carry-on bag, and more can be a small nightmare -- especially when asked to remove a child so the stroller can be put through screening. Harper suggests making the process easier by using a baby wrap or baby carrier that attaches to the body to take an infant through security, keeping hands completely free. There are various versions available from Baby Bjorn, Moby Evolution (starting at $35.50 at Target), and more.
It's a rare traveler who hasn't once or twice in their lives shown up later than expected to the airport and needed a way to speed through security like a VIP. For such moments, Pepper says kindness can carry you a long way. "You'd be surprised what a simple 'Excuse me, but my flight is boarding' can do," she says. "Be nice. Hold up your boarding pass and politely shimmy by. This also helps, of course, if you let others do the same when it's their turn to do the cut-the-line dance. Travel karma. It's a thing."
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