How to Get Through TSA Airport Security Faster in 2023
Going through TSA airport security does not have to be a stressful experience. While long lines and chaos are sometimes inevitable, there are many things you can do to drastically decrease your wait and get through much more quickly.
Join a Trusted Traveler Program
Numerous trusted traveler programs exist to expedite your time going through TSA security as well as simplify the process of going through customs after an international flight. Here are the ones you need to know about.
For both frequent and infrequent travelers, TSA PreCheck is my top recommendation for those looking for a smoother and faster airport security experience. Now only $78 for new applicants (memberships last for five years) and $70 when renewing online, it is cheaper than ever to take advantage of this great service.
While being a member does not always guarantee access to TSA PreCheck lanes, it significantly betters your odds. Those eligible for PreCheck lanes do not have to remove light jackets, shoes, liquids, laptops, or belts. Additionally, PreCheck lanes are usually shorter and move faster.
Since becoming a Global Entry member (it includes TSA PreCheck), I experience a lot less stress when heading to the airport. Not only do I get through security quicker, but I no longer have to fumble to remove my shoes, liquids, and laptop.
Global Entry (includes TSA PreCheck)
As previously mentioned, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, which is why I recommend signing up for it instead of just PreCheck. It requires a non-refundable $100 application fee. Approved memberships are valid for five years, and the renewal fee is another $100.
While I recommend Global Entry over just TSA PreCheck, the application process is a little more involved. In addition to an extensive background check, you also have to attend an interview. While the interview itself is usually straightforward, it can be difficult to find an available time.
Regardless, Global Entry is only $22 more than TSA PreCheck for five years, and it is worth it for those who plan to travel internationally.
Those eligible for a NEXUS membership get the best deal. With a $50 non-refundable application fee, it is the cheapest out of the major trusted traveler programs. U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and Canadian citizens can access TSA PreCheck lanes when flying from a United States airport.
If you are eligible for a NEXUS membership, I highly signing up for it since it also includes Global Entry access when entering the United States.
Further Reading: Best Credit Cards for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and NEXUS.
While it is not a trusted traveler program, CLEAR is a great way to expedite your way through security. Combined with TSA PreCheck, my CLEAR membership generally gets me through security in less than five minutes. Available for both PreCheck and non-PreCheck flyers, CLEAR replaces your ID with biometrics such as your fingerprints and a scan of your eyes.
At participating airports, there is a special line for CLEAR members that takes them to the front of the PreCheck or the non-PreCheck security scanning area. That means you can skip the potentially long line of people waiting to show the TSA agent their ID. At times, even the PreCheck line can get long, so CLEAR has a ton of value in busy airports.
The Vacationer Tip
Dressing and Packing
Non-PreCheck members aged 13-74 still have to remove light jackets, shoes, and belts before going through security. Wear shoes that are easy to remove and consider wearing pants or shorts that do not require a belt. Ensure your clothing does not have metal on it and remove piercings or other metal from your body.
Even if you have TSA PreCheck, remove everything from your pockets before going through the scanner. While you can put your wallet, keys, sunglasses, coins, and watch in a bin, I recommend putting them in your suitcase for easy retrieval. You can also put it in your jacket pockets if you opt to take it off. That makes it easier to get all of your items after clearing security.
The goal is to get through security as quickly as possible without setting off the alarm. When in doubt, take it off and put it in your suitcase or jacket (if you opt to take off your jacket and put it on the belt). Always take off items that set off the alarm in the past.
Travelers under 12 and 75 or older do not have to remove their shoes and light jackets.
Properly Pack Your Suitcase
TSA PreCheck members can leave their quart-sized liquids bag and their laptop in their suitcases. Non-PreCheck members must remove their liquids and laptop, so I recommend packing them towards the top of your suitcase for easy removal.
All travelers must ensure their liquids are compliant. Every liquid or gel item must be in a bottle that is 3.4 oz or less. Each liquid bottle must fit in a quart-sized bag. Anything larger should be packed in a checked bag. Water bottles must be empty, so you should drink or empty them before getting to security.
You should also ensure your bags are compliant with your ticket. Most airlines allow all passengers to bring at least one personal item. Many airlines allow for one personal item and one carry-on bag. Check your airline’s dimension requirements before packing your bags. While non-compliant luggage is unlikely to hold you up at security, it may hold you up when boarding the plane.
Items You Can and Cannot Bring Through Security
Familiarize yourself with the TSA’s allowed items list. Some items can be packed in both carry-on bags and checked bags, while others can only be brought in checked bags. Some items can be packed in carry-on bags but only under special circumstances. Attempting to bring banned items in a carry-on bag is going to get you flagged and increase your time going through security.
Here are a few items that you cannot pack in a carry-on bag under any circumstances.
- Aerosol Insecticide
- Alcoholic beverages over 140 proof
- Axes and Hatchets
- Bang Snaps
- Baseball Bats
- Battery -powered wheelchairs and mobility devices
- Bear spray
Here are a few items you can bring in a carry-on bag with special instructions.
- Air Mattress with Built-in Pump
- Airbrush Make-up Machine
- Alcoholic beverages (less or equal to 3.4 oz)
- Lighters (Arc, Plasma, Electronic, E-Lighters)
- Baby Formula
Food Items, Water, and Breast Milk/Baby Formula
You can bring food in your carry-on, but it must be solid. Any item with a liquid, gel, or creamy consistency must adhere to the 3.4 oz rule and fit in a quart-sized bag. You may be asked to separate your food items from the rest of your luggage at security, so prepare for that beforehand. I recommend putting all food in a clear plastic bag in an easily accessible location.
Unfortunately, you cannot bring water through security (unless it is in a 3.4 oz container). I recommend bringing an empty water bottle with you so you can fill it up after clearing security.
Breast milk and baby formula are considered medically necessary, so they may be packed in a carry-on bag in quantities greater than 3.4 oz. The TSA does recommend packing breast milk and baby formula in clear, translucent bottles. You should alert the TSA officer that you are transporting breast milk or baby formula and be ready to remove it for screening.
The TSA says non-PreCheck travelers must remove laptops from their bags, but it does not specify what to do with smaller electronics. I always pack my small electronics together in a clear plastic bag. Having all of your small electronics together lets the TSA agent quickly see them. I recommend that non-TSA PreCheck members put their small electronics bag in a bin. While the TSA does not require you to do that, I have found those who do it are less likely to get flagged.
TSA PreCheck members should still put small electronics in a bag, but they can keep them in their carry-on.
Consider Checking a Bag
While there are drawbacks to checking a bag, it can decrease your time going through security. Bringing a full carry-on bag increases your odds of something getting flagged at security. Additionally, it is easier to board a plane having checked your bag as opposed to fighting for overhead bin space.
Unfortunately, you may give time back retrieving your bag after landing. Checked bags are also often more expensive to bring on a plane than carry-on bags. I recommend checking your airline’s prices before making a decision. You should also see if your travel credit card offers free checked bags. Finally, see if your current airline status includes checked bags.
Identification and Tickets
Proper Forms of ID
Unless you have a CLEAR membership, those 18 and older must show a valid form of identification to the TSA agent before entering the security checkpoint. Failing to provide a valid form of identification may delay you getting through security. While the TSA will attempt to verify your identity if you do not have a valid form of ID, there is no guarantee the process will be successful and/or completed on time. For that reason, you should ensure your ID is valid before heading to the airport. Here are a few common TSA-approved forms of ID.
- State-Issued Driver’s License
- State-Issued ID
- United States Passport or Passport Card
- Trusted Traveler Card such as Global Entry or Nexus
- Permanent Resident Card
Beginning March 3, 2023, those 18 and older must have a REAL ID-compliant State-Issued Driver’s License or State-Issued ID. United States Passports, United States Passport Cards, Global Entry Cards, and other forms of ID are already REAL ID compliant, so you can use those if you do not want to upgrade your driver’s license or state-issued ID.
Use The Airline App for Mobile Tickets (and check-in online)
I highly recommend downloading the airline app. First, it allows you to check in for your flight 24 hours in advance, which saves a ton of time at the airport. In addition to saving time, this allows you to verify your seats and ensure there are no issues with your ticket.
The app also allows you to retrieve the tickets for every member of your itinerary on your phone. That is especially important if you have a large party and/or children. Fumbling through multiple paper tickets can slow you down when going through security, and it is easy to misplace one of them. With the app, you can store everyone’s ticket on a single phone, and that may drastically reduce your time at the security checkpoint.
Additionally, you should turn on the airline app’s push notifications. You will be notified right away if the flight is delayed or canceled. It will also tell you if your flight’s gate has changed, which is important if you are looking to maximize your time at the airport.
Finding Faster Airport Security Lanes
Download the MyTSA App
I highly recommend downloading the official MyTSA app. In addition to showing current security wait times, it also lets you select the day and time of your next trip to see average historical wait times. That is a powerful feature when preparing for your next flight.
It also shows which terminals have TSA PreCheck lanes and the open ones. This is incredibly important if you plan on using PreCheck. At times, the TSA will close certain lanes. Heading to the correct terminal with open lanes will save you a lot of time and frustration.
I check the MyTSA app every single time before leaving for the airport.
Monitor the People in Line
After finding the quickest security checkpoint, you should monitor the actual lines. Take a moment to see how quickly each line is moving. Avoid lines with a lot of kids or senior citizens. In most cases, those lines move slower. In certain situations, one of the lines may have a slower TSA agent checking IDs and boarding passes.
Fly at Non-Peak Times
If possible, fly during non-peak times for quicker security wait times. In most cases, that is early in the morning or late at night. Check the MyTSA app to see the busiest times for your airport before booking your flight.
Buying or Earning Expedited Security
Buy a First Class or Business Class Seat
Certain airlines and airports have expedited security lanes for first-class and business-class passengers. Before purchasing your ticket, check to see if the class and airport offer special lanes. In many cases, you will be able to breeze through security in less than five minutes, but it depends on the airport and time of day.
Earn Airline Status
Depending on your airline status level, you may be eligible for expedited security lanes at certain airports. The special lanes are only available to those with status and travelers with premium cabin tickets. To gain status, you are going to have to fly a lot, so I recommend picking an airline with a hub at your home airport and seeing how you can gain status.
For example, AAdvantage Gold®, AAdvantage Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum Pro®, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum® members may use expedited security lanes at select airports.
The Vacationer Tip
Hoping to earn elite airline status? See the following guides for more information.
Kids, Pets, & Special Conditions
Here are a few important things to know when traveling with children.
- Children under 18 do not have to show the TSA a valid form of identification.
- Children under the age of 12 do not have to remove their shoes or light jackets.
- Children 12 and under can use TSA PreCheck if their parent or guardian has access.
Prepare your children before going to the airport. Depending on their age, explain they may have to put an item or two on the belt (toys, blankets, etc). Also, walk them through the process of going through a metal detector using a doorway. While it is not likely to happen to younger children, explain how a pat-down works.
Infants or young kids in a stroller must be removed before going through security. Depending on the child’s age, you may have to carry them through the scanner.
Check your airline’s policy on pets before booking your flight. Generally, small animals can go through the checkpoint. Alert the TSA officer that you are traveling with a pet. Their carrier will have to pass through the X-Ray machine. You will have to carry your pet through the scanner. In some cases, your pet may need to be patted down.
No, you do not. Carry-on bags and personal items go directly on the belt.
Water bottles should be emptied before going through security. You may bring water if it fits in a 3.4 oz container inside of a quart-sized bag.
Children under the age of 12 do not need to remove their shoes and light jackets at security.
Your pockets must be empty when going through TSA security. That includes your wallet, cell phone, and loose change. Either put everything in a bin or pack it in your suitcase.
Yes, but the medications should be clearly labeled. To expedite the process, separate your medications from the rest of your luggage and inform the TSA officer.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
While going through TSA airport security may seem like a lengthy and stressful process, it does not have to be. Dress lightly and properly pack your suitcase before leaving for the airport. Make sure everything is out of your pocket, and ensure any water bottles are empty. Store all of your liquids in containers no larger than 3.4 oz, and make sure it all fits in a quart-sized bag. Finally, join a trusted traveler program like TSA PreCheck to gain access to generally faster moving lines.
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