It’s no secret that we hate waiting in lines. One MIT study estimates that Americans spend 2 to 3 years of their lives in queues; of course, that number includes slow-moving, incongruously-named ‘rush hour’ traffic, so the time we actually spend standing in line is only a fraction of that – but it’s no less irksome anyway.
One of the most dreaded queues for the frequent traveler is security at the airport. In most air travel satisfaction surveys, security screenings consistently rank at the bottom of the list of agreeable airport experiences. With a few simple steps, however, you can cut your wait time down, and make passing through security easier for you and others.
Trusted Traveler Programs
Several countries have implemented programs that allow frequent travelers to have a thorough background check once every few years in lieu of being fully screened each time they board a flight. The best known of these programs operates in the US. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Precheck allows approved US citizens to pass through airport security in a separate, shorter queue and avoid requirements such as removing laptops and liquids from their bags and taking off their shoes.
Non-US citizens can also receive TSA Precheck when flying out of certain US airports by applying for Global Entry, another trusted traveler program. Global Entry is a membership-based program that identifies low-risk travelers and lets them pass through customs via a quicker queue with an electronic check-in upon arrival in the US. A Global Entry membership costs $100 and lasts five years, though it requires a visit in person to a US Embassy for interview at infrequent dates. In addition passport holders from other countries may first have to join their own government’s reciprocal version of trusted traveler, including background checks and fees. Look for country-by-country details at cbp.gov
Beat the Crowd
You can speed up the screening process by scheduling your flight for an off-peak date. Avoid Fridays and Sundays, as these are the busiest days for vacation travelers. Similarly, Monday mornings are a prime time for business travelers. Leaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday is your best bet if you’re trying to avoid the masses. Common sense suggests avoiding holiday weekends and the dates around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fewer people to wade through makes life easier not only for you, but also for the airport staff – which leads to another way to ensure a smooth trip through security.
Mind Your Manners
Perhaps the most obvious tip is also the most essential: being respectful and gracious to the security staff will make for a quicker, more pleasant experience for everyone involved. Airport security guards move thousands of people through the gates every day.
The guards can work long hours and through the holidays. Their job is often stressful and it’s imperative they do it well. A simple smile or thank you can go a long way. If you have a legitimate question, ask it in a polite, non-accusatory tone of voice. And above all else, be early enough to the airport that you’re not placing an extra burden on them by asking them to rush you to your flight.
Dress for Success
Don’t be the person who holds up the line because you haven’t got your belongings ready for inspection. A jacket with several pockets can be a time-saver when you’re rushing to collect your wallet, keys, phone and watch from the conveyor belt. Slip-on shoes are quicker to take off and put back on if there isn’t anywhere to sit. You can also avoid removing your belt by wearing one with a non-metal buckle. And make sure any items that must be scanned separately (laptop, liquids, etc.) are easily accessible. The person behind you won’t appreciate waiting for you to dump the contents of your briefcase onto the conveyor belt and fish around for your iPad. Just have everything ready to go.
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