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Tired of Long TSA Airport security lines? Here is how to avoid them

Airplane

Learn how TSA Precheck, Clear, and/or Global Entry can get you through the airport faster

“I’d like to fly. Then I wouldn’t have to wait in airport security lines.”

JIM morris
Airport Security Lines

If you have been to U.S. airports recently, you have likely come across some ridiculously long TSA security lines. Along with my frequent travels, I volunteer weekly at my airport USO ( United Services Organization) to serve our military service members. When I arrive at 8:00 pm, I often see massive lines with posted wait time is up to 90 minutes. This is on a weekday too! It is easy to see the stress in the people in line. It is what inspired this post because it doesn’t have to be this way and it never is during my travels.

Recently, I had guests who had a mid-week late evening flight wait almost 40 minutes in the TSA Precheck line and only made their flight because it was delayed. There are many reports in the news of scores of people missing flights. Rescheduling is a nightmare too as most flights are completely sold out. It seems crazy and a waste of time to show up 3 hours before a domestic flight but that is becoming the new reality. The stress is simply not worth it.

Once past security, things have changed.

Airport Security Lines
Photo from Global Entry Website

Most airports now have so many great food, drink and shopping options past security it is sad to miss out. Now that many personal services such as chair massage, pedicures, and live music are available again, making traveling more pleasurable, it is a shame to miss out. For travelers like us who have access to lounges through our travel credit cards, we want to maximize our time there, which makes it even more essential to get through quickly.

What is the cause for all this

Airport Security Lines
Photo from TSA PreCheck

What is causing these long airport security lines involves a multitude of factors. Staff shortage issues with the TSA, long check-in lines at the counters also due to low staffing, an increase in travelers now flying after two years of Covid, increased screening times due to Covid, and security threats.

Then we have all been behind the unprepared traveler, who has tons of jewelry on, liquids in their carry-on, zippered boots on, etc. That becomes an extra minute or two for each of these people, which adds up very quickly. Predictions are that the number of travelers using U.S. airports in the next few months will surpass levels before the pandemic.

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It is so bad people can reserve spots online

Airport Security Lines

Many airports now allow you to pre-book a spot online for the TSA airport security line. You get a bar code and get to go to the front of the line. Since only frequent and local travelers will likely know about this, the tourists wait while others jump ahead. The Spot Saver program is free, but you have to wonder if that is only temporary. When the airports have to start using Disney ideas to expedite lines, you know you are in trouble.

I found this interesting from the TSA site: “it’s intended for those who don’t have access to any priority screening options, like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR.” So more reasons to look into those programs.

How to avoid those long lines

Airport

In my case, and when we do our blog travels, the average wait time in the airport security line is less than three minutes at any airport I use in the U.S. You read that right, less than THREE minutes. That is in the same airport that has 90 minutes of security lines. I can assure you I don’t have friends in TSA, and what I do to expedite the process through security everyone can access.

What allows me to fly through security is that I have TSA PreCheck through Global Entry and I have CLEAR. Let’s go into these options, their cost, and how it works.

Please note we have no relation or business affiliation with any of these programs.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck
Photo from TSA PreCheck website

The most significant perk of TSA PreCheck is access to a dedicated, expedited airport security line at most U.S. airports. The people that tend to be in these lines are more seasoned travelers, so they tend to have fewer issues getting through screenings. Also, only a small percentage of people get put through the body scanner; it is not used as often in the Precheck area.

In addition, you don’t have to remove liquids from your luggage, your shoes, belt, light jacket, or your laptop. That alone is a relief.

You may think this is expensive and cumbersome to get. Not at all. There are two ways to get TSA PreCheck. The factor that decides which way to go is simple. Ask yourself this question, do I travel internationally? If you don’t, get the TSA PreCheck directly. If you travel internationally a couple of times a year, apply for Global Entry, which comes by default with TSA PreCheck.

Suppose you have a travel credit card like Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum, Capital One Venture Rewards, etc. In that case, they now offer account credit when you sign up for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The credit is usually up to $100. You simply purchase it with the card that has this offer, and they then credit you back. The credit was there within 24 hours of the purchase when I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Airport Security Lines
Photo from TSA PreCheck website

How to get TSA Precheck

1. Apply Online

Submit an online application in 5 minutes & schedule an appointment at any 380+ enrollment centers.

2. Enroll in person

10-min in-person appointment that includes fingerprinting for a background check

Membership is only $85, renewals online go down to $70, and children under 12 can join their parents at no cost. This membership is good for FIVE years. If you travel more than once a year, it is worth its weight in gold, as it is said

TSA PreCheck
Photo from TSA PreCheck website

Good to know about TSA Precheck

  • More than 200 airports and 81 airlines provide TSA PreCheck. Click this link to see which airports have it available.
  • The TSA offers a mobile app called MyTSA, which provides passengers with 24/7 access to airport security information. It can also tell you what the lines are like at your airport. It also includes helpful tips for preparing for security, including a searchable database of what you can and cannot bring in your carry-on.
  • In the early days of PreCheck, lines were rarely long. It is now such a popular program that it is no longer the case. The lines can get quite long, and I have seen 40-minute waits. Keep in mind if TSA PreCheck is 40 minutes the regular lines are much longer!
  • Pre-TSA lines are not needed at times due to the time of day. At first, I would panic because I did not sort out my liquids. But if you have TSA PreCheck, security has given me a card that lets the screener know I am PreCheck, so I don’t have to remove my liquids, jackets, laptops, or shoes. I am unsure if this happens at each airport, but it has happened many times to me.

USEFUL TIP

Sometimes, your boarding pass does not have PreCheck written on it. If it is not on your boarding pass, you will NOT be able to use the line and be sent to the regular line, further delaying you. DO NOT leave the check-in counter without verifying it, I have, and it sucks. If you check-in online, your boarding pass must have it on there. If not, call the airline or go to the check-in counter when you arrive a the airport to correct it.

Have your Prescheck number on you at all times, and if you tell the gate agent the number, they can fix your boarding pass right there. Most programs allow you to enter it onto your ticketed reservation under Trusted Traveler Number. If you have a profile with the airline, it can be entered onto your profile, so you don’t need to worry about it moving forward. But still, check before getting in the airport security line; mistakes happen. I have mine in phone contacts so I easily pull it up.

Global Entry

Global Entry logo
Photo from Global Entry website

Global Entry is for people who travel outside the United States several times a year. Once accepted, it is a 5-year membership like TSA Precheck and requires an interview at the Global Entry Enrollment Center and fingerprinting. It is referred to as the Trusted Traveler Program. You need to be a low-risk traveler and agree to follow the rules. There is a rigorous background check done before you can get that interview.

This process is more involved than TSA PreCheck because waiting to get an appointment in some airports can be rather long. It is usually only done at airports with border control offices, which can be a hassle for those who live far from airports. If you happen to return from travel abroad, an office usually will interview you within the customs area. I have passed these many times and rarely see a line, which is a good option for many.

The two benefits of Global Entry are gaining expedited clearance upon arrival to the United States and getting TSA Precheck. At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, and place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification or an eye scan. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt with their image and directs them to baggage claim and the exit.

Recent experiences
Airport Security Lines
Picture from Global Entry website

On our recent travels in May 2022, the lines were long and slow for NON-Global Entry people. We simply walked up to a Kiosk. In our case, it scanned our eyes, and we did not even need to scan our passports. We quickly received a slip to hand to the customs officer. The average time to get through is around 5 minutes. It is such a relief after a long international flight, to say the least.

Luggage tends to come out quicker on international flights, so we are on the road often within 30 minutes of landing at the airport we usually use. If you have a connection to make, you are much less likely to be missing it if it is tight.

How to apply for Global Entry

1. Create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Regardless of your age, you must have your own TTP account.

2. Log in to your TTP account and complete the application. A $100 non-refundable fee is required with each completed application.

3. After accepting your completed application and fee, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, your TTP account will instruct you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.

4. You will need to bring your valid passport(s) booklet and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or I.D. card, to the interview. You must present your machine-readable permanent resident card if you are a lawful permanent resident.

Global Entry card
Picture from Global Entry website

A $100 one-time fee is required with your Global Entry application and must be paid at the time of application submission through the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) System. You can pay by credit card or through an electronic bank transfer.

As noted above, many travel credit cards offer to credit you for this. If you travel abroad, it is the best deal as that $100 gets you TSA PreCheck as well.

Please note the fee is non-refundable, even if an application is denied.

Good to know about Global Entry

The interview is pretty serious but quick. They ask a few questions and detail the rules you must follow and the penalties when you don’t.

There are no custom forms to complete anymore when reentering the United States. That does not mean you can be unaware of the limits of what you can bring back. Click here for the United States Custom and Border Control Government website for more information.

CLEAR

Clear

This is the best of all programs out there. Since I joined, I have NEVER waited in any airport security line. Clear members have a separate area to be screened. You do not need to present any I.D. Your identity is verified at a Kiosk (I do the Eye Scan), and your boarding pass is scanned into the machine. A Clear representative is there with you the whole time. Once “cleared,” they escort you to the TSA agent doing the security screening, bypassing everyone waiting in the regular line.

It is impressive—the program utilizes biometric authentication (fingerprint or eye scan). Once you have checked your bags, you can put your I.D. away! All you need out is your boarding pass.

Clear

The usual rate for Clear membership is $189 per year. However, there are many ways to save and avoid paying the total retail price. Clear partners with both Delta and United offer special membership rates. We get it through United as part of their frequent flyer program. My rate this past year was $109. Ryan has the American Express Platinum Card, and his membership was free.

Some credit cards also offer you a significant discount: you’ll earn up to $100 statement credit per calendar year when you use the card to purchase a Clear membership. The program also has frequent promotions such as three months free or extended renewal if you have referred someone. Membership is free if you are a top-tier Delta or United frequent flyer.

Signing up for Clear is easy
Clear
Picture from Clear website

Start your easy, one-time enrollment online, click here, then finish at any airport Clear location – no appointment necessary, just bring a valid government-issued I.D. I signed up at the airport. I just walked up, and 5 minutes later, I was done. The agent is there for the whole process to make it quick and easy. I was able to use it right away. It is only good in the United States.

Clear is also expanded beyond airports and has additional perks. There are Clear lanes in many stadiums and arenas nationwide for faster entry. They have a Health Pass option as well for Covid vaccination documentation.

The Clear program, in my view, is worth it even if I traveled only a couple of times a year. They offer family memberships with a substantial discount, and children under 18 traveling with their parents are free.  

Good to know about CLEAR

Clear is not usually open 24 hours a day at most airports. When there are very few flights, it is often closed from the late evening starting at 11:00, and reopens at 3:30 am. Of course, that varies by airport. It is important to check before you head out. Click here for the link with a list of airports and their hours.

Please note that you can be randomly pulled for I.D. screening and extra checks even with Clear. This occurs probably every 10th flight for me. It isn’t a big deal since you are at the front of the line anyway.

A little bonus is Clear will sometimes provide free “gifts” when you use their service. I have received quite a few sanitizer bottles with hanging clips, masks, and even a dog leash with the Clear logo.

Final thoughts

If airports are causing you stress and you are tired of long airport security lines, signup for TSA PreCheck and Clear to help expedite your travels. It is an easy and quick process and will make your travels so much more relaxed. Enjoy what the airport has to offer inside security.

We are lucky to have free access to airport lounges at most airports through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Ryan’s American Express Platinum. It is a good idea to check if your card has that available or maybe provide a few free lounges passes a year. We get to the airport at least two hours before any flight and spend time enjoying complimentary food and a free open bar. Larger lounges offer huge food spreads and areas to relax, work, or sleep. Many even have showers. Not standing in long security lines has its perks.

Don’t have access to airport lounges? At times we don’t either, so we enjoy window shopping, checking out the artwork, listening to live music, exploring the airport, or getting a snack.

I remember the days I dreaded heading to the airport and the stress I often experienced before getting on the plane. Now I am excited about my travels to the airport, and getting past airport security lines is seamless. If only it could extend to Europe. In the meantime, I will take what I can get here and appreciate it.

Safe and smooth travels to all.

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