The Agony Of Waiting In The TSA Line And How To Get Through It Faster

Airport Security, a.k.a. the TSA checkpoint. It’s like car insurance – you hope you never need it but it exists to give you (all of us) peace of mind. That noted, it is also a pain in the ass one of those things that can turn the most mild mannered traveler into Godzilla. It’s a race to get through the screening process and make it to the gate. You have to unpack your bags into separate bins, remove your shoes, watch, sunglasses and jacket. You may experience the ‘joy’ of getting selected for additional screening (getting to first base without even getting dinner) with an invasive pat down. All of these create a situation fraught with tension, personal annoyances, and bad attitudes waiting to happen.

The good news is that there are ways to make it a little less painful. By adding a few of the following rules to your travel bag of tricks you can start your adventure in a happier mindset, which is always a good thing.

Of course, I don’t have to remind you to check in online (when available) and the sign up for flight status updates, right? These are basic time savers we should all be doing when we travel. Onto the rules!

  1. You’ve made it to the airport and snagged a decent parking spot. Now, before you even get out of the car, take a moment to prepare yourself. Your goal is to be as  ready as possible to go through the security machine quickly.
    • Get your boarding pass and ID and put them somewhere they are secure but easily accessible when you get to the TSA line. Tearing through your bag holds up the people behind you and creates stress in an already stressful situation. Why do that to yourself (and the rest of us)? Put these items in a deep pocket, a slip pocket in your bag, or even in a pouch around your neck.
    • Also, assess your clothing. Are you wearing lace up shoes? Loosen the laces so you can slip out of them quickly. Wearing a belt? Take it off and stick it in your carry-on bag. Wearing lots of metal jewelry? Why? Take it off and stow it in your bag. If you aren’t sure, catch the eye of the TSA agent and ask. Things like scarves and jackets may be able to stay on or may have to be divested depending on any current threat alerts, airport-specific issues, or the mood of the TSA agent (and a TSA agent is never wrong 🙂 ).
    • If you do keep your jacket on, be sure your pockets are empty. If the scanner picks up something in them, you’ll have to go back through, empty them, and try again. This will annoy you and VEX THE HELL out of the person behind you (probably me).
    • Did you tuck a bottle of apple juice in your bag? Drink it or toss it, because it won’t make it through the X-ray machine. Know the 3-1-1 rules and pack accordingly. It can only save you time and aggravation.
  2. Choose the best line. Conventional wisdom states that the security lanes on the left are the fastest. I’m not sure about that; I think it’s more important to suss out the travelers ahead of you. Is it a group with lots of kids, bags, strollers, or laced-up boots? Find another line. Is it largely comprised of business travelers who are undressing with lightning speed? That’s a safe bet for a quick process.
    • Consider using a checkpoint that is further away from your gate but less crowded. It may be worth it. Plus, you’ll work towards your 10,000 steps without even trying.
  3. Grab your bins as soon as you can. You will need one for your laptop, one for your small bag, and maybe a dish for coins, watches, etc. Now, if you paid attention to rule number one (above) you won’t need the dish because you already stowed all this stuff in your bag. Get your bins loaded before you reach the conveyor belt and then, just slide them onto the rubber tread and make your way to the screening booth.
  4. If you are traveling for pleasure, choose flight times in your favor. Monday and Tuesday mornings and Thursday and Friday afternoons are NOT the time to get tangled up in the TSA line. These are prime times for business travelers and lines and times are almost always longer and more stressful. The exceptions to this are those insane flights that leave at 5am. There is NO ONE in the TSA line at 3:30 (unless you are in Tel Aviv).
  5. Enroll in TSA PreCheck! This is the trusted traveler program that allows you special dispensation at the security line and makes this process a lot more pleasant. It is now offered in more than 180 airports in the United States. The fee is nominal considering how much easier/faster it makes things (in my opinion) and lets you keep your shoes on (unless they have a metal shank) and keep laptops in the bag.
    • If you travel overseas frequently, check out Global Entry, the trusted traveler program for international travel. This makes getting back into the U.S. a breeze and (again, to me) is worth the $100 fee (for five years).
    • These programs may be the best money I’ve ever spent!

Finally, BE NICE. Be nice to the TSA agents. Be nice to your fellow travelers. No one sets out to be an idiot, a jerk, or ignorant (at least, I hope not) so cut everyone some slack as relax knowing you have the extra time you’ve allotted for your trip to and through the airport. You did give yourself extra time, didn’t you?

There you have it, fellow jet setters. With a heaping cup of forethought, a dash of preparation, and a pinch of patience you have a recipe for improving the TSA experience and kicking off your trip with some Zen vibes! What do you think? Are you already an expert at zipping through security? Share your favorite tip in the comments and thanks for stopping by!