How to Zip Through Airport Security


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Travelers in line at Miami International Airport.

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Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Airport lines are so long that hundreds of fliers at several airports have reported missing their flights, and the head of the Transportation Security Administration recently warned passengers to continue to expect delays over the summer. While skipping security isn’t an option, there are ways fliers can shorten their waits. Below, travel experts and the T.S.A. itself share their top tips for speeding through airport screening.

1. Pay the Airlines. Cheap, it’s not, but Paul Tumpowsky, the chief executive of Skylark, a travel consultancy in New York City that specializes in airfare, said that a handful of American carriers have fee-based programs that help travelers whisk through airport security. Delta Air Lines, for example, has a separate entrance at Terminal 5 at Los Angeles International Airport where Delta One (business class) passengers can check in and are led through expedited security by way of a private elevator.

American Airlines has a Five Star Service program for first- and business-class customers; it’s available in 12 domestic airports including San Francisco International Airport and Logan International Airport in Boston and five international airports like Heathrow Airport in London and Narita International Airport in Tokyo. For a starting price of $250 for the first adult and $75 for each additional adult, fliers get a host of services including a curbside meet-and-greet and priority security screening, where available.

JetBlue’s program is more affordable: Passengers flying out of more than 60 domestic airports can buy an Even More Speed add-on to their ticket for $10, which gives them access to expedited security lanes. The expedited security perk also comes with an Even More Space ticket for a roomier seat.

“You do pay up, but, for some travelers, the time savings may be worth it,” Mr. Tumpowsky said. “I flew American recently from LAX using the Five Star Service and made it from the curb through security in two minutes.”

2. Pick the Shorter Line. Michael Holtz, the owner of SmartFlyer, a global travel consultancy specializing in airfare, said that most airports have two security areas. “One of the areas is usually far more crowded than the other because there are more flights going out of the gates near it,” he said. “Seek out the security screening point that’s less busy. You’ll likely have to walk farther to get to your gate once you get past security, but you’ll save time not being held up at security.”

3. Navigate the Security Line Entrance as You Would a Crowded Bar. Actually getting in an airport security line, Mr. Holtz said, can waste precious time. “There is usually a bottleneck at the beginning of the line because passengers are fumbling around trying to find their IDs and boarding passes, but have yours out and ready to go, and navigate your way to the front of this crowd like you do at a bar when you want to order a drink,” he said. Another time saver: If you have a boarding pass on your email, Mr. Holtz advises taking a screenshot of it just in case the Wi-Fi signal at the airport is weak and you can’t load it.

4. Sign Up for T.S.A. Precheck: Frequent travelers have likely heard this tip before, but it’s true, said Michael England, a T.S.A. spokesman. The expedited screening program that makes preflight risk assessments of passengers is available at more than 160 airports across the country and costs $85 for five years. Fliers who are eligible for the program use T.S.A. precheck security lanes where they don’t have to take off their shoes, belts and light jackets; they also don’t have to remove their laptops or their 3-1-1 compliant bag of liquids, gels and aerosols from their luggage. Clear is another program that makes preflight risk assessments. It serves more than a dozen airports and costs $179 a year (additional family members are $50 a year).

5. Use Secondary Airports. Mr. Tumpowsky said that flying out of smaller airports is a big time saver when it comes to security. “They are far less crowded than the big hubs so it’s always a good idea to use them if you can because you can cut out a few hours of security line waits,” he said. Instead of booking a ticket from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, for example, choose Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Baltimore, and instead of La Guardia Airport or Kennedy International Airport in New York City, use Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y.

6. Pick Your Flight Times Wisely. During the weekdays, avoid traveling early in the morning or between 5 and 8 p.m., Mr. Holtz said, because these hours are when business travelers tend to fly. Also, Saturdays, in general, are a good day to fly to many destinations because leisure travelers usually head out for their trips on Fridays and return on Sundays, and there is limited business travel. “Flying at off-peak times means less congestion at the airport and shorter security lines,” he said.

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