Worried about holiday airport lines? Try these tricks.
We all know how it is. Any mention of the state of airport travel today — especially the lines and the TSA — will inevitably elicit groans of frustration, eye rolls, and a profusion of stories about airport security nightmares.
It’s true in many ways that traveling by plane in the 21st century lacks much of the glamour and carefree, effortless elegance of, say, 50 years ago. We live in a different world with much more complex problems that need to be addressed.
But since you have to go through the lines and security no matter what — how about making it as painless as possible? Here are some easy tips to help you breeze through your next security screening, even during the frenetic holiday season ahead.
1. Get organized.
Sounds like stock advice, right? Here are some specifics that can shave precious minutes and hassle off your wait time.
- Check your flight status before you get ready to leave your house, or download a smartphone app like TripIt that will automatically notify you of any changes to your itinerary.
- Check in to your flight online. This is especially helpful if you are not checking any bags.
- Ed Hewitt, features editor for The Independent Traveler, offers this sound advice: Before you leave for the airport, put everything essential you need to check in and get through security (identification, credit card, boarding pass, etc.) in an easily-accessible part of your wallet or bag. “This way, you don’t waste your (and other people’s) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.” Then, he says, “Pack out of reach anything that you will not need between your front door and your airplane seat. Clutter is the enemy of smooth passage through the airport.”
- Another trick I’ve employed over the years: If I’m staying over in a hotel and have an early morning flight, I place my watch, as well as any jewelry, loose change, and other small items I’d have to take out anyway (like portable electronics), and put them in Ziploc baggies inside my carry-on. This way, I save the time and hassle of having to remember and gather them while in line, and they’re all together in one place when I’m through. TSA agents also have told me that they appreciate this forethought.
- While you’re in line, make a mental note of how many bins you’ll need. Take a few seconds to plan out the most efficient way to get your stuff on the belt so you can go through, get everything back in place, and move on to your gate.
2. Get on the list.
The TSA has a trusted traveler program called PreCheck that is now available in many airports across the country. It allows you to speed through security, as those on the PreCheck list do not need to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. (Click here to read more about TSA Pre-Check on my blog.)
3. Troubleshoot like a pro.
When things don’t go as planned and you get delayed, or when a late flight means a missed connection — don’t panic. Here’s what you can have on hand to help make a messy situation much more bearable:
- If you have a smartphone, make use of it. Find helpful apps (such as TripIt) that keep all your travel information organized, that keep you informed, and that provide helpful names and numbers (like mine!) at your fingertips when you need them.
- Program the numbers of your travel agent, airline, car rental service, hotel, and any other contact info into your phone. You can even temporarily organize them all under one name — for example, assign the “last name” of each item as “California Trip 2015,” and they’ll all appear listed in one location in your contacts for easy access. This way, if a logistical emergency occurs, you have the ability to reach me so I can help you find additional flights, make cancellations, reschedule pick-up/drop-off times, or notify the front desk of a late arrival.
4. Get Zen – or whatever your version of that is.
When you have everything organized, and you know you’re ready to go, then all that’s left to do is wait in line. Why not make the most of it? Focus on the excitement you feel about your trip. Talk to your family. Take deep breaths. If you’re not self-conscious, do some pre-travel stretches. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Listen to a podcast. Get your mind in a place that’s positive and productive, and set the tone for your trip by focusing on what’s working and what you’re thankful for.
And, we know it’s tough sometimes, but don’t forget the one travel essential you cannot live without: patience. Everyone is in the same boat; everyone wants to get through the line. A smile and a “thank-you” can go a long way. I’ve known many people, including myself, who’ve been rewarded with unexpected surprises (baggage fees waived, or even a bump up) just for being polite when everyone else was falling apart. See where it gets you!