Waiting in line is bad; waiting in line at the airport is worse. To find out how to make your time in the security queue a little less painful, we solicited some easy tips and common-sense advice from Lisa Farbstein, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration.
1. Before you fly, join the club
“If you’re doing international travel, Global Entry is entirely the way to go,” says Farbstein. She adds that signing up for Global Entry also means you’re enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, so there is no need to sign up and pay for each program separately. A five-year Global Entry membership runs $100. A 30-minute interview is required, although the program’s popularity means it can sometimes take a couple of months to get one. Try booking a time mid-week, suggests Farbstein, and if you live close to more than one airport, try comparing wait times.
2. Skip the “airport hop”
The “airport hop” is that awkward dance travelers do as they try to take their shoes off, and hurriedly put them back on again, without holding up the security line. It isn’t pretty. “What kind of shoes should you wear at a checkpoint? The kind you don’t need to take off,” says Farbstein, adding that the best way to avoid this is to at least sign up for Pre-Check, whose members don’t need to take off their shoes or unbag their laptops. “Pre-Check is $85 dollars and is good for five years, or $17 dollars a year. So, what’s that, the cost of a few lattes? It’s really a good investment in terms of time-saving.” If you don’t have Pre-Check and those shoes do need to come off, avoid wearing footwear that has complicated laces or buckles. [We’re fond of the wool slip-ons from Glerups—ed.]
3. Don’t pack in a panic
You don’t need to be immaculate when it comes to folding shirts and pants. But cramming things into a carry-on could lead to unnecessary headaches at airport security. From time to time, the TSA needs to do random checks on luggage. If opening your suitcase means risking bodily harm due to errant socks and souvenirs spilling all over the place, well, you might want to reconsider your travel methods. Keep things neat and, if it’s something you’ll want to access frequently (like a laptop or travel documents), make sure it’s not buried in the middle of your bag, says Farbstein.
4. Liquid, gel, and aerosol?
Savvy travelers know that the TSA permits carry-on liquids, gels, and aerosols in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or smaller. These must all be placed into a quart-sized clear plastic bag, limited to one bag per passenger. The question for some travelers is simply this: What does the TSA consider a liquid in the first place? Lisa Farbstein has an easy way to remember. “A good rule of thumb,” she says, “is that if you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it, or pour it, then it’s a liquid, gel, or aerosol.” And that includes peanut butter. “People just love to travel with peanut butter,” Farbstein says with a chuckle. “If it’s already spread on a sandwich, you’re OK. But packing a jar of it will be a no-no at airport security.”
5. Water bottle, hold the water
Traveling can be tiring. It can also make you awfully thirsty, too. While bringing a large bottle of water to the airport sounds like a smart move for a long trip, you’re simply not going to be able to bring it through security. Farbstein says empty water bottles are the ideal solution. Tuck them into your carry-on luggage and then, once you’re through security, fill them up at a drinking fountain before your flight. You’ll save money and avoid having to toss a bottle of water into the trash.
6. Plan for rush hour
Just like hitting rush hour in your car, there are times when a lot more people are at an airport. “You’ve got to remember that summer travel is like peak travel on a highway,” says Farbstein. “Oftentimes, on holidays, people are traveling with children and that can help slow down a line.” She suggests taking extra time if you know your flight is scheduled for an especially busy period. Some early morning flights might also mean Pre-Check lanes are not yet open—so don’t attempt making a flight simply on the assumption you’ll sail through an expedited security line. If all else fails and you’re stumped by a travel scenario, Farbstein suggests travelers contact the TSA directly with their questions via the @AskTSA account on Twitter and Facebook.