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Get Through Airport Security in Practically Record Time

Learning to perfect the TSA ritual is a rite of passage everyone’s gotta go through at one point or another.

My favorite scene from Up in the Air is when George Clooney’s character is explaining to Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, who’s attained hee-rr-ooo status) how to navigate the airport and get through security as fast as possible. (My second favorite scene is when he’s comparing loyalty cards with Vera Farmiga’s character.) But without a doubt, Clooney’s character is on to something when it comes to wasting as little time in the airport as possible. I like to spend as little time in transit as possible.

(Okay, confession: I might go through the same mental thought process that George Clooney’s character does when I go through the security line. As a good rule of thumb, groups take much longer to go through security than business travelers do.)

Double check any questionable items that might not make it through security before you leave.

This can be answered quickly via through TSA’s official government app.


Okay, so not really a time-saving trick. But you’d be amazed the difference in treatment you get from TSA officers by remaining pleasant and friendly. They’re people too!

Pick the right security line.

Okay, so, I wouldn’t want to discriminate here but it is faster to pick a line that doesn’t have families or less families in it. In general, groups tend to travel a lot slower than individuals… just cause everyone is waiting for Aunt Betty to make it through. Look for people that don’t have a lot of luggage or have already removed most of their shoes and coats (a good sign they know the drill).

Wear socks or shoes that require socks or have spare slip-on socks on hand.

This sounds dumb until you’re standing in line with your bare feet touching the floor of the airport, waiting to get X-ray scanned. Eeew. Just no.

Have your coat and shoes off by the time the person in front of you gets to their turn to put their things on the conveyor belt.

Be ready to go. This includes belts, jewelry and any possible metallic items that will set off the metal detector.

Estimate the correct number of bins you will need.

I need a minimum of two bins. Realize that electronics, liquids and shoes can often go into one bin, while the carry-on item can go into the other bin. There’s often a small tray security keeps by the scanners for small personal items like keys, wallet and phone.

Liquids and laptop go in the topmost compartment of the carry-on.

These items should always be packed last and be on a top compartment (or on top of clothes) so they can be pulled out in a jiffy and placed in a bin for security. Minimize time digging through a bunch of clothes or trying to stuff things back in your bag to show respect to others in the security line with you.

Never reassemble your things after you’ve passed security by the belt bag. Instead, grab your things and move outside the security area to a nearby bench or packing area to repack.

This is about being courteous to passengers behind you. By sitting there on the security belt and deciding to reassemble things right then and there, you’re blocking other people from grabbing their belongings. (You never know who might be on a time crunch.)

The best thing to do is to move your bins to the end of the conveyor, grab your things, stack the empty bins and move to an area that’s out of the way for everybody else. Perform airport etiquette and hopefully one day, ye will be repaid in kind.

Sign up for TSA Pre or Global Entry to avoid this altogether.

By signing up for a DHS Trusted Traveler program—TSA PreCheck costs $85 for five years and Global Entry costs $100 for five years—travelers will head straight into expedited security and never have to worry about taking out liquids again. On a recent 7:00 a.m. flight, I left for the airport at 6 a.m. and got to the airport at 6:30 a.m. (boarding time). Security took me exactly two minutes. Okay, that’s pushing it but it was totally worth the extra five minutes of extra sleep.

For what it’s worth, it’s just usually a better deal to shell out the extra $15 for Global Entry, since it also includes TSA PreCheck with the added benefit of expedited customs clearance for iinternational travel. Getting out of JFK within 15 minutes is possible.

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