Get out of line at the airport

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We’ve all been there, especially during holiday travel: very long – seemingly endless, in fact – lines for checking in, checking your bag and clearing security. I have personally witnessed lines out the door and beyond the terminal in several U.S. airports.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, demand for air travel continues to rise as the economy improves. There are simply more people flying than a few years ago. A second issue is slower security procedures. Those TSA body scanners that take naked pictures of you? They take about 15 seconds longer on average than a walk-through metal detector. That may not sound like much, but multiply it by the number of passengers trying to clear security at a checkpoint every day, and that’s a lot of extra waiting time in the security line.

That means the reality is that, one day, you’ll encounter something like this:

MDW line

That photo and tweet are courtesy of Denise Whitaker of KOMO News in Seattle.

1.2 miles is an insane length for any line, and it’s my job to make sure you never have to wait in something like that at the airport. Thankfully, you have options:

Get elite status. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, elite status is the cornerstone of an effective travel strategy. While benefits vary by airline, some offer elite security lines even to their entry level elite tier (typically 25,000 flown miles per year).

Get TSA PreCheck. If you fly more than twice a year it’s worth it, as you’ll breeze past long lines and get to keep your shoes on, laptop in bag, etc. You can apply directly to TSA and pay $85 for five years, but you should do that only if you don’t have a passport. Otherwise Global Entry, administered by Customs and Border Protection, is a much better deal. It’s just $15 more ($100 for five years) and you get access both to TSA PreCheck and also expedited immigration and customs when returning to the United States from abroad. Again, a passport is required for Global Entry.

Buy your way in. If you fly just once a year, look for add-on options when you book your ticket. These days many airlines offer goodies a la carte, letting you pick and choose, including access to their elite (read: shorter) check-in and security lines. It might cost a few dollars, but would you rather wait in line for two hours?

My ultimate goal is to have you do as I do: walk into the airport and breeze past the long lines, generating angry stares the whole time from people who don’t have any idea how you’re beating the system. It’s a beautiful thing to be a savvy traveler.

About the Author

Ryan Lile's Profile Image

Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

Follow Ryan's journey on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.