These tricks are like E-ZPass for the airport.
- Programs like CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, and Global Entry can help you skip the lines.
- Premium cabins and elite status can unlock an expedited airport experience.
- Flying early in the day can help you beat the crowds.
For the first time in years, summer travel is booming. Not even sky-high gas prices are keeping Americans at home. But there is a dark side to all this travel: excruciatingly long lines.
In fact, even airport lounges are seeing waiting lists to get in. And it seems like lately not a day goes by that I don’t see a viral tweet or Reddit post about hours-long wait times getting through airport security.
If the idea of queuing at the airport bothers you at the thought of vacation, you might be in luck. There are a few ways to shorten, or even skip, those long lines.
1. Accelerate with passenger programs
Your average airport experience involves waiting in a few different lines, two of which are part of the security process: identity verification and scanning. And international travelers also have to deal with customs and immigration. There are some passenger programs that can help with all three.
The first is CLEAR. This is a newer program operated by a private company at more than 35 US airports. It is designed to speed up the identity verification process, essentially confirming that your identity matches your boarding pass.
Normally, you wait in line for security until a TSA worker can see your ID, see your boarding pass, and then make that little scribble that means your documents match.
With the CLEAR membership, you skip this part. Instead, you go to a CLEAR kiosk, which uses your biometrics to verify your identity. A CLEAR employee then escorts him directly to the front of the security line where he can go through the scanners.
At this point, you’ve already saved yourself a lot of waiting time. But it gets even better if you have TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck members can usually (but not always) use a dedicated security lane, one that often has a much shorter wait than the others. Additionally, TSA PreCheck members can avoid many of the associated hassles, since they don’t need to remove their shoes, belts, or jackets. You can also leave your liquids and laptop in your bag.
Finally, if you are traveling abroad, consider signing up for Global Entry. This program can help speed up the immigration process on your way back to the country, easily cutting an hour or more out of a busy day of travel.
While none of these programs are exactly cheap, there are ways to lower the cost. Many major travel rewards cards offer credits toward CLEAR and/or Global Entry memberships (Global Entry includes free TSA PreCheck). Alternatively, several airline frequent flyer programs also include discounted memberships.
2. Premium cabins often offer premium benefits
Another way to skip some of the lines is to book a premium cabin. Specifically, Domestic First Class fares and International Business or First Class fares often give you priority access to check-in and security lines.
For example, Delta first class passengers get Sky Priority service. This includes expedited check-in, security, and baggage handling. You’ll also get priority boarding so you don’t have to wait in a long line at the terminal.
Sure, premium fares often come with premium price tags. But in some cases, the difference isn’t much in real-world terms. A $150 economy ticket could turn into a $300 first class ticket. But in addition to faster service at the airport, you also get free food and drinks on board, as well as a free checked bag. The moment you add these extras, the additional cost of the ticket could pay for itself.
3. The elite status of airlines can open doors or queues
If you’re a very frequent flyer, you may have the option of using your airline’s elite status to skip some of the lines. Generally, this is a similar level of expedited service that you would get with a premium fare class, except you can enjoy the benefits no matter what type of ticket you book.
American Airlines elite members, for example, get priority check-in, security, and boarding, regardless of fare class. This applies to all elite levels, including the lowest elite level of AAdvantage Gold.
While most airlines force you to fly to earn status, American Airlines is also one of the few that allows you to spend up there with an American Airlines co-branded airline credit card. You earn one Loyalty Point for every base dollar spent on your card and earn Gold status with just 30,000 points.
4. Be the early riser
If all else fails, fly early. Most airports are busiest from mid-morning to late afternoon, as are the lines. Those who can fly early (for example, between 6:00 and 7:00 am) can beat many crowds, enjoy shorter lines, and an overall less stressful airport experience.
We all deserve a vacation, especially a hassle-free one. Follow these tips to speed your way through the airport and relax.
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