Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure this summer, prepare yourself for some very long lines.
In case you haven't heard, the TSA has been reducing its screening staff for the past three years. The end result of this and a few other factors has been increasingly long security lines in United States airports. This year has heralded a growing number of complaints about security processing times — and a growing number of travelers missing their flights — nationwide.
And given that a record number of fliers is expected to queue up this summer, things might get a whole lot worse before they get any better.
Short of ditching airports altogether and traveling by boat, train or automobile, here's how to deal with long security lines and ensure yourself the best possible chances of catching your flight.
Sign up for TSA Pre-Check.
It'll cost you $85 (and the government will have free reign to mine your personal information), but it's pretty much guaranteed to spare you from the worst of the long security lines. Approved Pre-Check members get to go through their own security and aren't required to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets, bag of liquids or laptops during the screening process.
Ahh, to travel like a human being again.
Book at weird times.
Statistically, you're less likely to encounter enormous lines if you book an early morning flight. (I do mean early—think around 4 am.) Tuesdays and Wednesdays also tend to be less busy.
Get there early.
You've probably heard this already, but it bears repeating: The best way to avoid missing your flight even in the event of slow-moving lines is to get there early enough to make it through them.
The general rule of thumb for the summer is to get to the airport two or three hours in advance of your flight (even for domestic flights). While you're at it, check in for your flight online (before arriving at the airport) in order to eliminate another potential hold-up.
Follow the airport on social media.
Many airports have started using their Twitter and Facebook accounts to provide real-time information to travelers who are standing in line (or about to be). While these updates won't reduce your wait time, they will help you estimate whether you're at risk of getting to the gate after the final boarding call has sounded.
See if your airline offers a solution.
Some airlines offer expedited security options that allow you to cut to the front of the security line or take advantage of other perks that can help streamline the check-in and security processes.
Of course, these will cost you; Delta's “premium check-in experience” runs for $250. A lot of frequent flier programs also offer priority screening.
Only take a carry-on.
Skip the check-in counter and head right to the security line by not checking any luggage. Packing light and choosing the right suitcase will help you pack everything you need into a carry-on, even if you'll be traveling for a week or two. This will also ensure that your baggage stays with you in the unfortunate event that long lines cause you to miss your flight.
Prepare for screening.
You can help the security line run more efficiently for everyone by double-checking that you don't have any contraband items in your baggage before stepping into line and preparing for the screening process by removing your shoes, bag of liquids, coats and laptops before you reach the x-ray machines.
Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that you'll make it through security in time to board your flight. That's just the nature of plane travel. But these strategies will significantly reduce your risk of missing a flight due to long security lines this summer.