5 ways to skip long airport lines

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If TSA lines aren't enough, there's another summer travel delay to worry about. According to a recent study of Federal data, June and July are the worst months of the year for passport checkpoint waits returning to the U.S.

Some airports have average wait times of over 30 minutes, and maximum wait times often top out at around an hour or more.

But there are new ways around this and other airport delays that can save you aggravation.

Get Mobile Passport Control. This is an app officially authorized by the Department of Customs and Border Protection, which lets you use special passport checkpoint lanes with no paperwork involved. This is the simplest, and sometimes most effective way to cut down on passport checkpoint waits. It's free, there's no advance registration needed, and everyone in your family can use it. Download it and you'll be able to skip the congested passport and customs lines at some of the busiest airports.

If you fly a lot, consider Global Entry. Global Entry, a trusted traveler program, is more involved than Mobile Passport Control because it requires an in-person interview and a $100 application fee. The benefit is it gets you both priority at passport checkpoints and regular domestic security lines via TSA Pre Check. It's also available at more airports than Mobile Passport Control.

Some credit cards will reimburse you the cost of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees. You probably don't want to get a card just to offset the fee, because most of the cards that offer the benefit have annual fees of their own. Better to pick a travel credit card based on your spending habits.

Pay up for priority once. Some airlines let you pay a fee to get access to priority security and boarding lanes. And you can buy it right up until check-in via mobile apps, kiosks, or online checkin. So if you get to the airport, and lines look hopeless, the fee might help you make your flight.

Become a SkyMiles member. Delta SkyMiles members get discounted membership to CLEAR, which is a private service that offers expedited biometric security clearance at several airports. Instead of paying $179 a year, SkyMiles members pay $99, and anyone can become a SkyMiles member for free.

Try a different terminal. If lines are really bad at one terminal, consider another in the same airport. Many big airports let you clear security in a different terminal than the one you're departing. Some terminals are connected behind security, while others have shuttles running in between, If you're facing an hour plus wait at your terminal, it may be worth the walk to a terminal with little or no wait.

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As one might expect from Texas' artsy enclave, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport offers numerous choices for great food, music and art. The Music in the Air program is especially entertaining, with six separate venues offering live music throughout the day. As for food, Amy's Ice Creams and The Salt Lick have been repeatedly lauded by food critics.

Photo: Bibi, Flickr.com

Sure, Memphis International Airport has two small galleries: an outpost of the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, and a local student art exhibit area. But as any Memphis traveler might expect, its real excitement comes from its restaurants. While several are good, the barbecue joints -- Corky's and Jimmy Neely's Interstate Barbecue -- have garnered particular praise. If you luck into a 6-hour layover, maybe you can try both.

Photo: Colleen, Flickr.com

Although it is rarely featured in lists of Atlanta-area attractions, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport gets consistent raves from food and travel critics alike. The nap spaces offered by Minute Suites make traveling a little less harried, and the fact that Peachtree Park and the Georgia Aquarium are less than 20 minutes away means that long layovers could be a great excuse for a side trip. But the big draw is the food. The airport has dozens of food choices, but Ecco Restaurant, One Flew South, and Paschal's have all received kudos from reviewers.

As one might expect in sunny Miami, one of the best things to do in the airport is escape it: Miami-Dade International Airport is less than 15 minutes from Doral Golf Resort and Spa. But even if you aren't up for golf or a massage, the airport offers a lot to see and do. There are three separate galleries, a few murals, and assorted art installations. And when it comes to food, two choices in particular -- Lorena Garcia Cocina and La Carreta -- are worthy of serious consideration.

Photo: La Carreta

Table massages, facials, and art installations -- Denver International Airport has enough attractions to keep you busy for a few hours. When it comes to food, Chef Jimmy's Bistro and New Belgium Hub have both drawn rave reviews, and when it comes to smoking, the airport's Smokin' Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge hearkens back to an earlier era when one could still light up in most terminals. Of course, it costs $5 to get in.
For years, O'Hare airport's Berghoff Cafe has been one of the better options available to weary, hungry travelers. Recently, however, it has been joined by a host of other options, including Hub 51, Wow Bao, and the much-lauded Rick Bayless' Tortas Fronteras. Oprah fans might want to visit Garrett's Popcorn, while art lovers might want to check out the airports numerous installations. In terms of music, however, O'Hare hasn't quite caught up with the times: While its grim-sounding "Terminal Tunes" program features local music, it's all pre-recorded and piped through the airport's P.A. system.
Forget Alcatraz, Haight-Ashbury and the Golden Gate: When it comes to visiting San Francisco, the airport should top your list. First off, there are the impressive food choices, including Cat Cora's Kitchen, Ebisu, Anchor Brewing Company and Perry's. But if that isn't enough for you, there's also a yoga room, a museum, a live music program, and an aquarium. And, if you must leave, is only a quick drive from the airport to the hiking, beach and wildlife museum at Coyote Point.

In a city of inconvenient airports, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is in a class of its own: Even the easiest way to reach it requires a long subway ride, followed by a short, very expensive tram ride. But, if you get stuck at JFK, take heart -- there's enough stuff to keep you busy for a few hours. In terms of food, there are almost too many options: In addition to the inevitable Shake Shack, there's Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke Barbecue, Marcus Samuelsson's Uptown Brasserie, Deep Blue Sushi, Aeronuova, Brasserie La Vie, Piquillo, and Andrew Carmellini's Croque Madame. And, in addition to food, there's a live concert series, as well as the elegant TWA terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, which is only occasionally open.

Photo: Doug Letterman, Flickr.com

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