2017-06-21 07:29:02
Frugal Traveler: How to Survive Airport Security

The unavoidable proceeding of going through airport security is about as pleasurable as a trip to the dentist’s office, and sometimes takes just as long. There are the techniques that have become ingrained in most travelers: Get that laptop out of your bag before you get to the scanners; throw out that water bottle before an agent tells you to. But the seasoned traveler has some next-level tricks. Here is a list of pointers to help keep you sailing through security as efficiently as possible, and with minimal stress:

It’s an inexact science, but there are a couple of ways at least to try to approximate how long the airport line will be. One is with the dedicated phone app (available for Android and iOS) by the Transportation Security Administration, which is also available for a web browser. Simply add the airport in question and you are able to see wait times as they are reported by fellow travelers. (If no one has reported wait times, or if they are reported incorrectly, there unfortunately isn’t much you can do about that.) Another app, called MiFlight, tries to predict wait times through crowdsourcing and offers airport maps.

This is the big one. By signing up for one of the Customs and Border Protection’s “trusted traveler” programs, you will have access to faster screening lines and reduced wait times. But which program is right for you? T.S.A. PreCheck ($85 for five years) allows for quicker screenings at T.S.A. checkpoints (giving you access to the special PreCheck line and granting you permission to keep your shoes on, among other things) after a background check and in-person appointment at one of its enrollment centers. Global Entry costs a little more, $100 for five years, but travelers get access to PreCheck and receive expedited entry into the United States when returning from abroad.

You are probably less likely to use the Nexus and Sentri programs, but they are useful for travelers who often go between the United States and Canada or make land crossings into the United States from Mexico (citizens and permanent residents who belong to these programs also have access to PreCheck). Nexus grants you access to dedicated kiosks when flying into certain Canadian airports. And dedicated Sentri lanes at the United States-Mexico border make crossing easier by foot and by car.

The Clear program is significantly more expensive ($179 annually, though there is a discount for Delta SkyMiles members) but promises an enhanced security experience by not requiring members to have their IDs — verification of identity is done biometrically. Keep in mind that members still have to go through physical security screening just like everyone else — they just get to skip the line. The Clear program is available at about 20 airports; PreCheck is used at around 180.

It may sound silly, but one of the main things that I do to get through a line quickly and not lose things is to have some kind of outerwear with pockets — zippable ones, if possible. There are any number of things that can get misplaced during a jaunt through airport security, including keys, wallet, phone, boarding pass and ID. Wearing a light jacket means you don’t have to throw everything haphazardly into a bin. Simply put all of your small objects into a pocket before heading through the security screener. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. And it’ll save you a lot of grief.

As for shoes, I recommend loafers or something that slips on and off easily (unless you have PreCheck, in which case you can leave your shoes on). Avoid big boots or shoes with complicated laces and straps. Also, wear socks: You don’t want to have to walk on the airport floor with bare feet.

My other must-have item is — ready? — a belt with a plastic buckle. I bought a sturdy nylon belt from Thomas Bates ($14.95) a little while ago and it has served me quite well in my travels. I’ve been through security with it dozens of times and not ever had to remove it. (I have PreCheck, which lets me keep my belt on. The times I’ve worn a regular belt and set off the metal detector, I’ve had to remove it.) Having to take off and put on a belt isn’t life-changing in the grand scheme of things, but in the small, stressful bubble of airport security, it can really make a difference when you’re rushing to make a flight.

If you printed out your boarding pass beforehand — because you definitely checked in online the night before, right? — this isn’t as applicable, but many people, myself included, use their phones as boarding passes. That’s all fine while you’re sending emails and checking Instagram during a long security line, but 15 minutes becomes 30 minutes and whoops — suddenly your phone dies.

Partly for just that reason, I always take a portable lipstick charger with me: It’s lightweight, fits in my pocket, and has saved me more times than I can count. (The key, of course, is to remember to charge the charger.) I found an Anker PowerCore mini charger online for less than $10. That’s good for slightly more than a full charge on my iPhone. If you need more power, there are larger, heavier batteries in the $45 range that hold a lot more juice and can charge two devices at the same time. The PowerCore 2000 advertises a “whole week of charging” in a package that weighs in at just under 13 ounces.

Generally, passengers can take liquids through in only 3.4-ounce quantities in a quart-size bag. There is an exception for infants and toddlers drinking formula, breast milk or juice or both, which may be taken through in “reasonable quantities” — just be sure to give the security agent a heads-up. Additionally, children under 13 will not have to remove their shoes, hats or light outerwear.

I had a teacher once who, when I was late to class, would say to me, “In order to not be late, you must be early.” I scoffed then, but the statement has stuck with me over the years. I now call it my 20-minute rule: Whenever you think you have to be at the airport, get there 20 minutes earlier. Most of the time, some hiccup will add a small delay to your trip: Having to double back to lock the door, bad traffic or a late car pickup. Giving yourself an extra 20 minutes will usually allow you not to have to stress out about getting through security and to your gate in time. Would you rather kill 20 minutes reading magazines or kill yourself sprinting through Terminal C?

No one wants to be in a security line at 7 a.m. Be courteous to the T.S.A. workers and give travelers around you personal space. If someone desperately wants to go in front of you because his flight is boarding (and you’re not in the same situation), let him go ahead. Airport security has become a more time-consuming and less pleasant experience over the years, but we’re all in the same boat. Take a deep breath and keep that in mind the next time you’re fumbling around with keys and a stroller and trying to remember where on earth you put your driver’s license.