preloadBeautiful curly Hispanic female traveler putting her personal belongings into two trays. She is standing beside a Caucasian female security worker. She has light brown hair and she is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans.

The most vexing part of your trip can be waiting in a long line to go through the security checkpoint at the airport. And getting pulled over and patted down. Luckily you don’t have to. Here are expert tips you can use to get through the airport security lanes faster and with minimal stress.

Pack smart and dress right for the security checkpoint.

A woman with a suitcase standing on an escalator, distractedly gazing someplace.

You’ll move through airport security faster if you make it easy for Transportation Security Administration officers to do their job of keeping dangerous items such as explosives and firearms out of airports. Don’t overpack your carry-on bag in case it needs to be opened, inspected and then repacked. Make sure your electronics and toiletry bag are easily accessible, should you need to take them out. And wear outer clothing layers and shoes that can be easily removed.

TSA Precheck, Clear, or a reservation can get you through airport security faster.

A surefire way to speed up your airport security experience is to enroll in TSA Precheck and/or Clear for the trip out and in Global Entry for when you return home from an international trip.

More than 200 airports and more than 90 airlines participate in TSA Precheck, a paid membership program that speeds vetted travelers through security in dedicated security lanes where shoes, belts and lights can stay on and laptops and toiletries may stay packed. Clear, also a paid program, is an identity verification program operating at more than 50 airports (plus some stadiums and other event venues). Clear members with TSA PreCheck skip to the front of that fast line. Clear members without TSA Precheck skip to the front of the standard TSA lanes. Either way, you’re moving along faster than everyone else.

A somewhat under the radar option is the free, security checkpoint reservation service offered at 20 airports in North America and Europe, including Seattle, Denver, New York (JFK), Orlando, London (Heathrow), Amsterdam, Berlin and Rome. A great time-saving option for those without TSA PreCheck or Clear memberships, the program lets you book a reserved time to go through a dedicated checkpoint.

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Get there on time. Or earlier.

It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but to get through airport security faster, you may need to get to the airport earlier than you planned. With more people traveling overall, especially during holidays, festivals and special events, even TSA PreCheck lanes can end up snaking out through terminal lobbies. Check your airport’s website or social media channels for peak travel alerts and consider making your way through the security checkpoint in an off peak time.

Use your wait time at the security checkpoint wisely.

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You can use some of the time you wait in a long security line to check your email and commiserate with fellow passengers. But your time will be better spent making sure your boarding pass and ID are ready and in order and that you and your belongings are prepared to go through the checkpoint. Have your toiletries bag at the top of your carry-on, remove your coat, and empty your pockets so you don’t end up having to go through the scanner more than once.

Bin there, done that? Not so fast.

Lots of people empty their pockets into a bin or basket at the security checkpoint, sending wallets, cell phones, jewelry, lucky charms and other small items through the x-ray machine in plain view.

Don’t do that. Valuables can easily be picked up, intentionally or not, by the wrong person at the other end of the conveyor belt (especially if the scanner line gets backed up) and you may forget to pick up an important item.

Review TSA’s do’s and don’t.

An individual puts an iPad inside a suitcase of his belongings.

Even the most experienced traveler sometimes gets tripped up by TSA’s list of what you may or may not put in your carry-on bag. Firearms and explosives, even toy versions, are prohibited, but what about souvenir baseball bats, golf clubs, cranberry sauce, live lobsters or antlers? The TSA’s “What Can I Bring” tool has most answers and will respond via text, Facebook messenger and other means with a ruling on other items you’re considering packing in your carry-on bag.

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Be nice. But no bomb jokes.

Being a TSA officer isn’t a barrel of laughs. There’s the full-time job of looking for firearms, explosives and other prohibited items. And the daily grind of dealing with travelers who are often stressed out and rude. A kind word, a smile, and a quick chat with the TSA officer can go a long way in making their day and moving things along should a bag need to be opened or a pat-down is required.

Use alternate checkpoint lanes.

Multiracial group of passengers passing by airport security check.

In some airports you must go through the security checkpoint dedicated to the concourse where your flight departs from. But in many others, you can access all terminals, concourses, and gates once you get through any checkpoint. So, in the same way that the security briefing on the airplane reminds you that the closest exit may be behind you, at the airport keep in mind that when you encounter a long security line the fastest way into the terminal might be at a different checkpoint.

Use your airport’s website or app to locate all the checkpoints, the hours each checkpoint is open and which ones welcome TSA Precheck or Clear members or, in some cases, premium flyers.

Check the wait times at different checkpoints.

Before you trek off to an alternate checkpoint or ask your ride to drop you off at a certain spot outside the airport in hopes of finding a shorter line, check the security line wait times using the My TSA App or the live checkpoint wait time reports posted by individual airports.

How to get a pass to go through airport security even if you’re not flying.

A mother and daughter in an airport waiting for their luggage to exit the X-ray machine.

Each airline has its own policy, but if you call ahead or contact your airline through its website you may be able to get an airline-issued gate pass, or escort pass, to accompany a child or other traveler who needs extra assistance. Be prepared to fill out a form in advance, bring a government ID with you to the airport, and go through the security checkpoint for screening.

A handful of airports make it easy for non-ticketed passengers to apply for a gate pass to enter the secure side of the airport to meet arriving passengers, spend more time with someone before they fly, or to shop or dine in the terminals. Airports in Seattle, New Orleans, Orlando (Terminal C), Detroit, Tulsa, OK, Ontario, CA and several others currently offer this option. In most cases, you apply online ahead of your visit and once the TSA clears you, you’ll get an email confirmation, often with a QR code to show, along with your ID, at a certain checkpoint.

How this guide was created

I’m a veteran travel journalist and one of those odd people who really loves spending time in airports, which I consider modern-day crossroads where so much of the drama, drudge, hope and excitement of the journey is on display. This guide draws on knowledge and skills accrued over many years of studying airport operations, from many checkpoint bag checks and pat downs, and several eye-opening, official TSA officer training sessions.

About the author

Harriet BaskasHarriet is an award-winning journalist who is happiest in an airport or an unusual museum. Her stories about airports, air travel, and the business of travel have appeared on NBC News, CNBC, USA TODAY, The Points Guy and other outlets. She is the creator of the blog and the author of nine books. When not out on the road or exploring the latest airport amenities, she’s home in Seattle getting ready for the next adventure.

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