Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Whether you regularly pass through airports or not, going through security is something nobody enjoys. But it doesn’t need to be stressful.
From long lines and confusing rules to other passengers (not to mention your own potential disorganization), many things can slow you down at airport security. The key to passing through swiftly and painlessly is being prepared and considering your fast-track options before reaching the airport.
There are usually ways around those long lines, and we’re here to help you get through airport security faster and get on your way.
Here are 10 tips for getting through airport security faster.
Sign up for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
The processing system has been improved this year by the release of a Global Entry app, which is currently in operation at more than a dozen U.S. airports. When using the app, travelers can now bypass the Global Entry kiosks and instead verify their arrival in the U.S. via the app.
The app service is currently in operation at the following U.S. airports:
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
- Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
- Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD)
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
- Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- Miami International Airport (MIA)
- Midway International Airport (MDW) in Chicago
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
- Orlando International Airport (MCO)
- Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
- Tampa International Airport (TPA)
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The application fee for Global Entry is $100, and once approved, your membership is valid for five years.
With TSA PreCheck, you’ll get access to an expedited security line and reduced security measures. You can leave on your shoes, belt and a light jacket, and your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids stay in your bag. TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports with 85 airlines, and it costs $78 for five years.
If you don’t have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, check your wallet and look at your credit cards. Many cards will reimburse the application fees for PreCheck and/or Global Entry up to $100 once every four or five years. Some that cover program enrollment fees are The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and the United Explorer Card.
If you’ve always assumed you didn’t need Clear because you have TSA PreCheck, it may be time to think again. This is one of the latest programs created to expedite the security screening process, and it is currently in 56 airports. Clear uses a biometric identity platform that relies on fingerprint and iris scanning to speed up the identification process at airport security checkpoints, stadiums and other venues.
Clear membership, coupled with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, can get you through security in five minutes or less at many airports most of the time.
There have been some delays recently as Clear rolls out a new biometric screening system called NextGen Identity+, which is forcing users to go through a few steps to verify their identification again. That is slowing down some Clear lines at the moment.
To use this NextGen Identity+ technology, Clear members must go through a few steps to reverify their identity, starting with creating a one-time password to verify their phone number via an email from Clear.
A Clear membership will run you $189 a year. You can add a family member for $99, and children under 18 are free. You can currently get a free one-month trial.
There are ways to cut the cost or get Clear for free for even longer than a month. If you’re a Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus member (joining those loyalty programs is free), you pay only $179 a year without elite status and $149 if you have elite status.
Those with top-tier elite status, such as Delta Diamond Medallion and United 1K members, get Clear for free. The Amex Platinum Card and the American Express® Green Card come with an up to $189 Clear Plus annual credit. Enrollment is required.
The information for the American Express Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Reserve your spot in line
A growing number of airports allow you to reserve your spot in the security line in advance without any specific program membership. Sometimes this costs extra, but sometimes it doesn’t.
For example, at the new Terminal B in New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA), you can spend $15-$20 for a B-Fast pass that allows you access to a shorter security line. The higher-priced option is available for immediate use. At Orlando International Airport (MCO), a place known for long security lines during peak travel times, you can reserve a spot in line for free via Clear’s Reserve program. Using this option does not require a Clear membership. This year, Terminal 3 in London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) also began trialing a security time slot booking service (in conjunction with Clear).
Search online for options to reserve spots in line for the airport you’re departing from, as how this works at each airport varies.
Fly premium class
Flying in a first- or business-class cabin not only comes with an upgraded inflight experience, but it also gets you priority access to expedited airport security checkpoint lines at some airports. That means the United Airlines Polaris international business-class seat can shave precious minutes off wait times at some TSA checkpoints with “Premier Access” signs.
Airlines offering this perk include:
- Alaska Airlines: First-class passengers
- American Airlines: Priority AAccess, business-class and first-class passengers
- Delta Air Lines: SkyPriority, Delta One and first-class passengers
- JetBlue: Even More Space and Mint passengers
- Southwest Airlines: Business Select passengers
- United Airlines: Premier Access, business-class and first-class passengers
- British Airways: Business-class passengers at Heathrow Airport, London Gatwick Airport (LGW) and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Get airline elite status
If you don’t have TSA PreCheck or Clear and you are not flying in premium cabins, you can still sometimes get expedited security access via airline elite status. This benefit is usually — but not always — extended to any companions traveling with the elite member, so it can’t hurt to try and bring them along with you.
Passengers with elite status from the programs below are eligible for this benefit. Note that access is not available at every airport, so check with your airline in advance.
- Alaska Airlines: MVP, MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K and MVP 100K members
- American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
- Delta Air Lines: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
- JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic and Mosaic+ members
- Southwest Airlines: A-List and A-List Preferred members
- United Airlines: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members
Related: The best airline credit cards
Pack like a pro
There’s nothing worse than being stuck behind someone at security who has to empty a pocket full of change and other miscellaneous items into the trays at security, then painstakingly put everything back at the other end.
Make sure that coins, lighters and other items are placed inside a bag and aren’t loose in trays. This is also a good time to empty your pockets of any rubbish. Don’t be the person who drops a handful of litter at the checkpoint as they fish out their wallet.
Additionally, make sure that any toiletries are placed in clear plastic bags where required before you hit security, and are either already out when you reach the checkpoint, or easily accessible at the top of your bag or in side pockets. The same goes for any other items you may need to remove, such as laptops.
No, we aren’t saying dressing up gets you to the front of the line. It doesn’t. However, regular travelers know there’s always that one person who holds up the line because they have to untie their shoes, unzip cumbersome boots, take off their jewelry and remove belts. Save time for yourself and others by using common sense when you pick out what shoes and accessories you wear to fly.
Wear shoes without metal and ones you can quickly remove and put back on if necessary. Wear a jacket with big pockets so that after passing through security, you can quickly throw your phone, wallet and passport in them before grabbing the rest of your belongings.
Know the rules
Remember you must remove your laptop from its case and place it in its own bin if you’re not in a TSA PreCheck lane. Make sure any liquids in your carry-on are in a clear plastic bag (here are the rules for the TSA’s 3-1-1 policy). Throw away any plastic bottles with liquid in them and empty your reusable bottle before going through the security line.
Finally, when you’re through the metal detectors, collect your belongings from the belt as quickly as possible and reassemble yourself away from the screening area. The quicker you take your belongings off the belt, the quicker everyone else can move through the line.
Monitor wait times at your airport
There are apps that help you keep an eye on the security wait times at the airport. Some options include MiFlight, App in the Air, Kayak and MyTSA. These apps allow you to check the status of the line several hours before your scheduled departure time and make a better-informed decision on when to arrive. Many airports also have this information on their website — but remember, things can and do change, so allow buffer time regardless of what the wait time is while you are still at home.
Fly at the right time
Try not to travel at a time when the security checkpoints will be jammed. Backups can happen at any time. However, the beginning and end of long weekends, holiday breaks and more have the potential to be quite crowded.
Although going to the airport during the busy travel season can be stressful, there are several options to get through security faster than your traveling peers.
Signing up for TSA PreCheck and/or Clear are our favorite ways to get expedited security, but there are other ways to speed up the process. Being a savvy traveler is a big part of getting through the airport with your sanity intact.