Even if you’ve allowed yourself plenty of time to make your way from check-in to the gate, spending a lot of time in the airport security line can be frustrating, tiring, and downright anxiety-inducing. Fortunately, we solicited some easy tips and common-sense advice from Lisa Farbstein, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), on how to clear airport security faster.
1. Enroll in TSA PreCheck or Clear
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows those who are enrolled to go through an airport security line that is usually shorter and faster than the regular line. Those in TSA PreCheck do not have to take out their liquids, laptops, or take off their shoes when going through security—though some airports will begin allowing all passengers (PreCheck or not) to keep their liquids in their bags in 2023, thanks to improved scanning technologies.
TSA PreCheck is not to be confused with Global Entry, which speeds up travel on the other end of your journey when clearing customs upon arrival into the United States—though signing up for Global Entry will automatically enroll you in TSA PreCheck. “If you’re doing international travel, Global Entry is entirely the way to go,” says Farbstein. You’ll also get TSA PreCheck in the process, but there’s no need to sign up and pay for each program separately. A five-year Global Entry membership costs $100. A 30-minute interview is required, although the program’s popularity means it can sometimes take a couple of months to get one. To speed things up, try booking an interview midweek; if you live close to more than one airport, try comparing wait times.
In addition to TSA PreCheck, travelers can also enroll in Clear®, which costs $189 for an annual membership. After signing up online and completing a short in-person scan to verify your identity, you’ll be able to walk up to a Clear kiosk at any airport and scan your fingerprints or eyes. Then a representative will escort you straight to the security checkpoint, bypassing the regular line where the TSA agents check your ID.
With airport security lines commanding extra-long waits nowadays and even TSA PreCheck lines getting longer, a Clear® and TSA PreCheck pairing is the quickest way to get through security.
2. Wear shoes you can easily slip off
What’s the best shoe to wear when clearing airport security? “The kind you don’t need to take off,” says Farbstein, noting that TSA PreCheck members don’t need to take off their shoes, light jackets, or remove their laptops from their personal belongings.
If you don’t have PreCheck and those shoes do need to come off, wear something you can easily slip off and on. We’re fond of the wool slip-ons from Glerups.
3. Make sure none of your clothes contain metal
Seems like a no-brainer, right? But many travelers can get held up at security because they forget about metal buttons in their shirt or metallic studs in jeans. Even underwire bras can get flagged by metal detectors. Look for these little details on your clothing when planning out your travel outfit and you’ll breeze through metal detectors.
4. Pack your carry-on (relatively) neatly
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, and having things organized will make it easy to repack. (We recommend using packing cubes to help.)
For anything you might have to take out quickly during security checks, like a laptop or toiletry bag, be sure it’s not buried in the middle of your bag, says Farbstein.
5. Make sure you’re following TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid rule
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.
Less clear is what the TSA considers 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 and other foods. “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.”
If you’re ever unsure, you can consult TSA’s helpful What Can I Bring? tool or text the TSA your question.
6. Empty your water bottle
Full water bottles are a common reason TSA stops passengers for further screening. Avoid this by packing an empty water bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain after you’ve passed through security.
7. Plan extra time during busy travel seasons
“Summer travel is like peak travel on a highway,” says Farbstein. “Often times, 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 PreCheck lanes are not yet open—so don’t attempt making a flight simply on the assumption you’ll sail through an expedited security line.
This article was originally published in 2018 and most recently updated on March 16, 2023, to include current information.
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