I love the airport, even during the holidays. I’m a weirdo, but I like shopping/browsing and trying the different places to eat. I love the fact that I’m going to go somewhere. I like to people watch and I enjoy checking out the airport art and other cool things they have that other airports don’t. These last two months I’ve been to the airport six times. Twice to come and go and four times to pick up or drop off. I’ll pay $3 to park so I can wander around. Sometimes I find awesome stuff there, plus Portland International is America’s Favorite Airport four years running. How can I resist that?
Anyway, if you want to make sure that you actually make it onto your flight to go somewhere fun (or at least to visit friends and family), then you’re going to want to be prepared for what TSA has in store for you.
Get to the airport early
This is a must! Security lines are longer than ever during the holidays, even on the slowest days. Just plan to wait in line twice as long as you usually do. You never know what’s going to happen and traffic sucks from November 1-January 2. Allow yourself time for all the inevitables and surprises and plan to get to the airport at two hours before your flight if you’re traveling domestic, and at least three hours if you’re traveling international. Bring a book, a battery back-up for your phone or tablet and a game. This way you’ll have something to amuse yourself in line and at the gate if you get there with plenty of time before you flight. Remember: flights generally board 30 minutes before take-off, so you’ll want to get there before that window opens.
Wear easy-on, easy-off shoes
Do you want to spend 20 minutes untying your hiking books to take off and put in the security bin? Probably not. Also, the people behind you do not want to wait for you either. Make sure you wear shoes that can easily be taken off and put back on, so you can make security procedures that much less painful for you and everyone else involved.
Do not wrap your gifts
TSA is all about seeing everything in your bag. Even if you only have one gift in your bag, don’t wrap it. You will have spent all that time and energy making it look pretty and then getting it into your bag, only to have an agent rip your paper to shreds to find out what you packed. Bring small gifts that can be packed without boxes and wrapping paper. By all means, bring those staples with you to wrap at your destination if you have room in your bag.
Have your photo ID and boarding pass in-hand
You can’t even get to the security conveyor belts and scanners if you don’t make it past the TSA agent in the line. Make sure to be prepared and keep the line moving, by having your photo ID (or passport) and boarding pass at the ready. Nobody wants to wait for you to dig around in your bag to find it and you will just make enemies of those people in line behind you. Even better, download the airline app and use the e-ticket to check in and get through security. You can use your phone to show the passes of everyone in your travel group, as long as they have their identification out.
Have your 3-1-1 bag out
Don’t wait until you get to the airport to start rummaging around in your toiletry bag and finding all your liquids and gels. Buy a TSA-approved 3-1-1 bag online or at the store or pick up a box of 1-liter zip-top bags and fill it up before you leave home. It will make you less stressed and you’ll know that everything fits in there.
Make sure your laptop is easily accessible
If you’re bringing a laptop, netbook or iPad, make sure you can quickly access it and slide it in and out of your carry-on. It will make the security line that much faster when you have to dump all your individual things into a bin: shoes, jacket, purse, pocket contents, laptop, 3-1-1 bag. The quicker these things can be put into a bin, the faster you can push them towards the X-Ray machine and make room for other travelers’ items and bins on the counter. (Another way to make this easier is to get a checkpoint-friendly bag, like this Travelon one.)
Don’t stuff your bag
Before I got Pre-Check (see below), I was always singled out for “random” bag checks and extra security. I don’t really care. I have nothing to hide and I don’t get embarrassed by my underwear being handled by strangers in front of a bunch of other strangers, but a lot of people do. Also, if you have Tetris-ed your bag so well that everything inside only fits in one way, it’s going to suck when you have to shove it all back in there (or are mortified when the agent tries unsuccessfully to do it) and it doesn’t fit again and you can’t zip it and half your stuff is hanging out on your way to your gate where you can try to get it all back in some order like before. Note: it never works. You’re going to end up shoving a pair of pants in your purse because they somehow no longer fit.
Most people head to the right after their ID or passport has been checked. Go left instead (if you have the choice) and you’ll likely get through the line faster. Another tip for choosing the best line is to look for one that has the fewest children. Nothing against them, but they are slow and their parents are basically trying to do the job of a cat wrangler while also doing all the security procedures. Don’t blame them. Parenting is hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in the slow line behind them.
Get Pre-Check (or Global Entry)
If you travel a couple times a year, then this is a great investment. For $85, you can leave your shoes on and everything in your bag and just breeze past those other suckers waiting in line at security for 40 minutes. It’s like FastPASS for your travels. Read more on my post here.
Stop rushing the gate
You’re checked in, you have a seat. Nobody’s going to take that away from you. Unless you have a small child and you need extra time to get settled in, just chill out. While everyone else is freaking out and crowding the poor gate agent to get on the plane, you can skip the stress and just hang back until the crowd thins out. It might even help you get in the good graces of the crew to help you with this next tip:
This is one way to get a free upgrade, because when you’re the last passenger on the plane, you have a choice of any available seat, maybe even a first class seat if you’re really lucky. It helps if you only have a small carry-on with you that can fit under the seat. I’ll tell you why: there will likely be no overhead bin space left and having to wait longer for you to either find a place to put your bag or check it to go under the plane will not win you any friends and everyone will blame you when the plane leaves late.
Hopefully, these tips will allow you to get through security with minimal stress and get you on your trip faster.
What are your favorite security tips?