Going to the airport, checking in / checking bags, and going through security can be one of the most frustrating parts of your trip, especially if security lines are forever long. It can be a very stressful and anxiety-inducing experience if you are stuck in a long line and your flight is leaving sooner rather than later or you have trouble parking or getting a bag dropped. Thankfully, it does not have to be so stressful and there are so many ways you can cut down your time at the airport so you can get to your gate early or enjoy some food and beverages in your favorite travel partner lounge.
I have compiled a list of 8 ways to get through the airport faster and help you zoom through as easily and as quickly as possible.
Work on Airline Elite Status
Many major airlines offer elite status which also gives priority line access at several airports around the world. Many of these major airlines let your companions take on your status while they are traveling with you, so they are able to use these lines as well. A lot of these airlines have co-branded credit cards that can help you gain elite status quicker as well as give you access to priority lines and sometimes even the lounges. One of my favorite cards, for those that are Delta Loyal, is the Reserve Card. You get 10,000 MQMs and 40,000 miles when you sign up (*make sure to read details) and you get several other awesome benefits as well. You get complimentary Delta Sky Club access, free checked bags, priority boarding, and 20% savings on select flights. There are other credit cards that I have used, but I have been using the reserve for Delta Medallion status for 9 years now.
TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Mobile Passport
I highly recommend applying for TSA PreCheck as it can help you save valuable time when arriving at the airport. When you have TSA PreCheck you no longer have to remove shoes, belts, and light jackets and you no longer have to remove laptops and liquids from your bags. According to the TSA PreCheck website, in October 2019, 93% of PreCheck members waited 5 minutes or less. Talk about a time saver! You can apply online and it takes about 5 minutes. Once you submit an application, you will make an appointment at an enrollment center. At the 10 minute in-person appointment, you will submit to a background check and fingerprinting. Once you are enrolled, you will be given a Known Traveler Number and you are good to go!
If you are an international traveller, Global Entry can save you a ton of time as well. Global Entry is a program that allows for expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon entering the United States. Travelers must be pre-approved and undergo a vigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment.
The cost for TSA PreCheck is $85 and Global Entry is $100 for a five year membership. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, so if you are going to travel internationally by land, air, or sea, this is the way to go.
If you do not want to drop the $100 on Global Entry, you can download the Mobile Passport App to help save time in customs. Download the app and set up your profile in advance. When you arrive back to the U.S., you will answer a series of questions and submit them to customs. You will receive a barcode to your phone and you will do to the dedicated Mobile Passport line. The mobile passport is not available at all airports, but it is continuing to grow and it is in many of the major airports like ATL and JFK.
Now, this is my favorite travel hack, tip, membership, etc. I am even a little hesitant to share! While having Medallion Elite Status and PreCheck is fantastic, what takes the cake for me is my membership to CLEAR. CLEAR uses your eyes and your fingerprints to breeze right through security (and at some sporting events, too). You walk up to the kiosk, scan your eyes and fingerprints, scan your barcode of your boarding pass, and then you are escorted to the front of the security line. They check your boarding pass and let you right through. No need for your drivers license or passport at the checkpoint because CLEAR has already taken care of your identity.
A regular CLEAR membership is $119 a year. CLEAR has several partners and if you are Delta Loyal like me, they offer a discounted rate. Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion Members as well as Delta Skymiles credit card holders will pay $109 per year and if you are a Delta Diamond Medallion membership is free.
You do not need any priority or PreCheck to have a CLEAR Membership, however, if you do have these in combination with CLEAR, you will breeze through security in minutes. I cannot tell you how much I love this program. I walk up and walk right through. Almost every single time I have flown since having a CLEAR membership, I have walked right through and have not waiting in line for more than 30-60 seconds. It is without a doubt my favorite travel hack and program. It is the best money you will spend on making travel easier and faster!
Check In Early
This may go without saying for our seasoned travelers, but it is still worth mentioning. Make sure to check in prior to arriving at the airport either online or on your phone. Because technology is so awesome, you can use the electronic pass on your phone and go paperless! If you are traveling with a major airline, they likely have a mobile app that will give you the mobile pass and keep you up to date on all kinds of things like boarding time, baggage, delays, gate changes, and Sky Club locations.
This one can be a little tough to do, but I guarantee it will help with time. Unless you are traveling for a very long period of time or to somewhere very cold (and need lots of heavy clothing items and jackets), I always suggest traveling with carry-ons only and not checking your bags. I promise you can do it. I spent almost two weeks in Europe in November/December and managed to pack with a carry-on suitcase and backpack.
There are several ways to pack light and to optimize your packing – you can find my favorite travel gear here – but the amount of time saved and stress avoided by having your bag on you will make your trip so much better! When you get to the airport, it does not matter if you have PreCheck or CLEAR, if you cannot get your bag(s) dropped quickly, security will not matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen extremely long lines at the baggage drop with passengers having panic attacks because they are fearful they are going to miss their flights. If you have something like Sky Priority with Delta, you will have dedicated lanes for baggage drop which can help, but they are not necessarily located at every airport and it does not guarantee a quick drop off either.
And do not forget the whole “lost baggage” thing… I will give you a quick example – I flew into Boston from Atlanta, on Delta with Sky Priority, when it was 75 degrees in Atlanta and snowing in Boston. All of my winter and snow clothing were in my suitcase and the baggage was lost for about 24 hours. I was miserable and had to go buy extra clothing and shoes instead of enjoying my first day in the city. So, it is just my advice, but when you can pack a carry-on in lieu of checking your baggage, just do it!
I will say that if you do plan on checking a bag(s), make sure to check your airline guidelines for weight limits. If you are traveling on smaller airlines in other countries, they often have different weight requirements, so be sure to double check those before you go and weigh your bag at home!
Check the Parking
If you are going to park at the airport (which I never do anymore, but…) make sure you check the parking situation online before you head to the airport. If you do not check the parking online prior, make sure to give yourself enough time to go to a plan B if the parking lots are full. I used to travel a lot for work and that meant a lot of early morning trips and day/lunchtime trips to the airport. There were numerous occasions when I arrived and both on-site parking lots were full (North and South Terminals at the Atlanta Airport) and I went into complete panic mode and on more than one occurrence, ended up paying hundreds of dollars to park so that I would not miss the flight. Just be smart and avoid that at all costs. I suggest taking a ride-share service like Uber or using your city’s public transportation. There is always the option of asking a friend or family member to take you as well. You can pay them with a drink or meal sometime after you return!
Get There Early
I am a little bit different on this one because I plan my arrival based on the type of trip I am taking as well as where I am going. For example, I will arrive much earlier than normal when taking an international flight for numerous reasons and airline requirements. Usually when I am taking a long haul flight (anything over 3 or 4 hours), I like to arrive at the airport with plenty of time for me to drop my bag (in the rare occasions I check a bag if I am taking a long trip), get through security, and then go relax in the Delta Sky Club. I love to go have drinks, eat some healthy snacks, and just chill out before getting on those long haul flights. This is also great when taking trips with your loved one or friends/family as it is a great and fun way to kick off your trip!
If I am traveling domestically and a short flight, if I am traveling solo, or if I am just plain running late, I have gotten the arrival time, security, and the time to get to the gate down to an exact science. But, I will say that it is because of years and years of flying all different kinds of flights and destinations. Do not mess around with this one. Get there early so you do not have to stress about it and put a cloud on your trip!
This could be my platform to discuss the people who wear actual pajamas to the airport, but I will save that for another time. If you do not have TSA PreCheck, you will have to remove your coat, shoes, etc in security. It is much easier to move through this process as simply as possible so those amazing lace up boots you love may be best packed in the suitcase. I usually travel in leggings, comfortable tops, sweater (layers are key) and a very comfortable pair of shoes. Slip on flat boots are great for the colder months. You will also see me traveling in a hat all the time because I try not to squish them in the suitcase!
Now, if you have followed my suggestions, you will have arrived at the airport already checked in and made your way through security like a champ! Let me know how it goes for you!