Oh, the dreaded TSA line. It's the last thing that stands between you and your flight. As a frequent traveler, I've spent a lot of time at airports and standing in line. With all this time waiting, I've noticed that people are constantly making the same mistake. Through careful observation and testing it myself, I've come up with a few simple strategies on how to get through the TSA security line as quickly and efficiently as possible. Yes, most of the times I've been able to get through in 15 minutes or less, while other times I just had to be patient and wait. Next time you're flying, try my 7 easy steps and comment to let me know what worked, what didn't, or other tips you may have.
1) Make sure what you need is easily accessible
Liquids (3.4 oz or less) in a ziplock bag and laptops must come out of your carry-on bag, so pack them where they can be easily accessed and taken out. Have your passport/I.D. and boarding pass ready to show to TSA (zipper pocket of your carry-on, inside coat pocket, etc). You will not need it until boarding, so just put it away after it's stamped.
Extra: TSA is always "reminding" people that your laptop must be placed in a bin by itself. FALSE! A TSA agent told me they just want your laptop unobstructed by other objects, so you can place other things in the same bin as long as they do not cover your laptop. Tablets and cameras DO NOT need to be taken out of your bag - don't make this rookie mistake, I see it all the time!
2) Take off and pack your layers
Anything flowing (such as jacket and scarf) will have to come off and placed in a bin. Belts, some jewelry, phones, loose change, etc will go off during security and they may have to pay you down. Pack those objects away before getting in the TSA line. If you're unsure about an item, just take it off.
Side note: wear shoes that you can easily slip on and off. You'll hold up the line if you have to untie or unzip. I avoid these people when choosing a queue line (see #3)!
3) Pick the right queue line
This is the MOST important and useful tip that I can offer. I used this process when I was connecting from Zurich to Boston though D.C., and I made it to my flight with time to spare. So, without further adieu: DO NOT get in line behind families and/or strollers, elderly, and people wearing shoes with many laces, straps, or boots/heels. Also stay clear of those wearing layers they haven't taken off, or are on their phone. DO go for the line with people traveling for business, only have a briefcase or one carry-on item, or are in uniform (flight attendants). Does this tip sound familiar? It's probably because you've seen the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney. My addition: when you're in one long line which then breaks off into many smaller lines, go for the one FARTHEST away from where the one long line breaks off. I'm not sure if people are lazy or just unaware that there are other lines, but they always seem to be less crowded. You're welcome.
5) Systematically place items on the belt
I'm assuming you've followed steps 1-4, so here's how I unpack:
- Take 2 bins
- Place shoes, jacket and personal item in first bin
- Place laptop and liquids in second bin
- Place carry on luggage last, zipper open
Here's why (you're now through the screening):
- First bin arrives, slip on your shoes, jacket and personal item
- Second bin arrives, pick up your laptop and liquids, stack bins
- Luggage arrives, flip open, place laptop and liquids inside and DONE!
6) TSA Precheck
Join this new expedited screening program! If you're considered low-risk, for a fee of $85 for 5 years you can receive expedited screening - and use a separate and shorter line - at TSA security. You'll have to go in for an interview, but if approved you won't need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, light jackets and belts. I really only recommend this if you regularly travel in the US for business as it's only offered in the US. Click here to learn more.
There are other expedited screening/frequent traveler services for traveling abroad. Click here for those options..
7) Do not ask to skip the line
This isn't really a tip, but more of a warning. Do not ask agents if you can go to the front of the line because you're running late for your flight. They are no longer allowed to do this (or maybe they were never allowed to in the first place). Also realize that there may be others in line who are on your same flight. Take a deep breath, follow my steps, and get ready to run to your gate once past security. Your flight will not leave until they have called your name 2-3 times on the loudspeaker.