For most of us, waiting in lengthy airport security lines has become the rule, rather than the exception. And navigating through TSA security is probably more treacherous than the trip you’re embarking on. Not only is it invasive, but correctly following all of the detailed protocols can be tricky, too. (And watch out for these four letters; they guarantee you a longer wait.)
But as it turns out, there is a trick to getting through that lengthy security line—without blowing your cash on a TSA PreCheck pass. Don’t make these mistakes before your next flight, either.
The secret? Choose the security checkpoint line farthest to the left; travel experts say it’s often the shortest line in your terminal. Since most people are right-handed, research shows they intuitively turn to the right-most line right away, leaving the left ones for those willing to book it a little further. Check out even more things your TSA agent isn’t telling you.
Related: Airport secrets we didn't know
40 airport secrets only insiders know
40 airport secrets only insiders know
1. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck Are Totally Worth It
“Global Entry is a must for anyone who travels internationally and includes TSA PreCheck for your domestic flights,” said frequent traveler Lee Huffman, founder of BaldThoughts.com. "Because you are what's known as a Trusted Traveler, you can skip security lines at the airport and don't have to take off your shoes or remove your 3-1-1 liquids bag."
2. Sign Up for Airline Rewards Programs
Even if you don’t fly often, you could benefit from signing up for an airline rewards program. After just a few flights, you might have enough miles or points to score free or low-cost travel. And you might not even have to use the same airline to redeem your miles.
“You can often fly on partner airlines using your airline's miles,” said Huffman. “In some cases, using Airline A's miles to fly on partner Airline B requires less miles than if you used Airline B's miles for the same flight."
3. Don’t Check Your Bags
One way to make sure your stuff arrives safely is to pack like a pro and take only carry-on bags when you travel. Typically, airlines allow for one carry-on bag and another small item, such as a purse or laptop. However, checking your bags can mean waiting in long lines, and there's a risk of your luggage getting lost or even stolen.
Instead, utilize carry-on bags to save time and ensure your stuff arrives when and where you do.
4. Take Advantage of Airport Lounges
Airport lounges aren't just for the rich and famous.
“Many credit cards and airline loyalty programs provide free or discounted access to airport lounges,” said Huffman.
Not only do these lounges allow you to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport to relax before your flight, but you can also enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks. Call your credit card company ahead of time to see if you're eligible for entrance.
5. Pack Only What You Need
Frequent fliers know that one of the best airport tips is to travel light. While it's wise to pack a few extra socks for your trip, stop and ask yourself if all the items in your suitcase are truly necessary.
“When packing, think about [in] exactly what situation you'll want a certain item of clothing,” said Gillian Morris, CEO and founder of Hitlist, a travel app that alerts you when cheap flights are available.
Typically, traveling to your intended destination at off-peak times — for example, during the rainy season — can save you money. Do your research to see when the "low season" is for the place you'd like to go.
7. Pack an Empty Water Bottle
The best airport travel tips save you both money and time.
Instead of having your water bottle thrown out by the TSA, or having to stop and buy a $5 water bottle at the food court, pack an empty bottle to stay hydrated. Airports have water fountains where you can fill up before your journey — for free.
8. Clear Your Cookies Before You Book a Flight
If you've ever searched online for a flight and then waited an hour or so to purchase, you might have seen the price increase. The culprit could be your cookies. After all, internet browsers track your activity online, and some booking sites might increase the price depending on demand.
To avoid this situation, travel pros suggest clearing your cookies or using a private browser when booking a flight. You might just be able to score a lower rate on your next trip.
9. Bring Your Own Headphones
Many airlines offer free in-flight entertainment, but not all of them provide headphones for free. In order to save money and keep yourself entertained during a long flight, pack your own headphones. As a bonus, you’ll look busy and avoid any unwanted conversations with people in your row.
Most airlines don't charge to check carry-on bags at the gate, but you should check before heading to the airport to avoid surprises. Along with saving you money, this airport tip can help keep you comfortable during the flight. Instead of stuffing a bag under your feet, you can save this valuable space for a more crucial commodity — your legs.
11. Fly on a Tuesday for the Best Deals
The weekend is prime travel time for many people, which can mean higher prices and larger crowds. For the best travel deals, fly on a Tuesday. Additionally, you should consider booking a flight that leaves at a non-peak time, such as early in the morning or late at night.
12. Four Wheels Are Better Than Two
The luggage you travel with matters, and having four wheels can be better than two. This way, you can avoid dragging your bag and push it in front of you instead.
Additionally, bags with four wheels allow you to navigate tight spaces and maintain better control over your luggage. The end result is that you can get through the airport faster.
13. Download Your Airline’s App
One easy travel tip that can make air travel easier: Download your airline’s app. In most cases, you can enjoy paperless boarding and get real-time updates on any flight delays, changes or updates. As an added bonus, having a mobile boarding pass can help you save time — and some trees.
14. Wear Slip-On Shoes
If you dread taking off your shoes in the security line, make your life a little easier and wear slip-on shoes. This simple travel hack can keep the line moving and make getting through security a little less painful.
15. Pack Your Own Food
Airline food has a bad reputation, and for good reason. Instead of eating substandard food on the plane, or picking up overpriced snacks in the airport, pack your own items ahead of time. Sandwiches, fruit, crackers and granola bars are all smart choices, but be sure to check with the TSA to make sure your menu follows security guidelines.
16. Spend Money to Save Money
While airport shops have a reputation for jacking up prices, travelers can occasionally score good deals. Some states, such as Oregon, have no sales tax. If you’re thinking of shopping at the airport, compare prices online and check tax laws before you travel.
17. Pick an Aisle Seat
Planes can be cold, and the temperature tends to drop even lower by the window. In fact, cold air can leak right through the window glass at high altitudes.
Opt for an aisle seat to stay warm on your next flight. As a bonus, you won’t have to climb over anyone to go to the bathroom.
18. Bring the Sanitizer
Airplanes can be hotbeds for germs. Be sure to bring hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to avoid illness when you fly. One area not to miss is your tray table. Tray tables might contain germs, so take the time to sanitize that tray before you eat your snack off it.
19. Get Social
One of the best travel tips for saving money is to get social. Follow various airlines, airports and airline booking sites on social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to score promo codes, discounts and insider tips.
20. Know Your Airport Code
Before arriving at the airport, learn your airport code or the three letters that refer to your destination, such as LAX. After all, some cities have multiple airports, and your luggage tags can get mixed up if you’re not sure where you’re headed.
21. Make Your Luggage Unique
At baggage claim, the sea of bags can look eerily similar. One of the best travel tricks is to make your luggage unique by tying a ribbon or tag to the handle.
Not only does differentiating your bag from the rest save you time, but it also ensures someone else won't walk off with your belongings.
22. Wear a Jacket
Picking the aisle seat might not be enough to keep you warm on your trip. For best results, wear several layers, including a jacket, so you're prepared to handle temperature fluctuations. Along with helping you deal with the cold, donning a coat gives you more pockets for small items that you want to keep handy on your journey.
23. Get a Rewards Credit Card
If you like flying with a particular airline, it might make sense to get an airline rewards credit card. Often, these airline-based cards can have generous sign-up bonuses and offer perks like discounted travel, early boarding and access to airport lounges.
“If you have great credit and do not have any spending problems, you can sign up for credit cards to earn hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles, so your upcoming trips are all free or heavily discounted,” said Eric Rosenberg, travel hacker and founder of Personal Profitability.
24. Plan Ahead
Frequent travelers plan ahead to make their lives easier and ensure they arrive at the airport on time. Pack the night before, look up driving or public transportation directions, check the weather and traffic, and print out important documents ahead of time.
25. Choose the Path of Least Resistance
The amount of traffic in arrivals and departures can vary, depending on the day. However, you can still get where you need to go, regardless of which lane you choose. If there are too many travelers in the departures lane, consider changing it up and getting dropped off at arrivals.
26. Check In Ahead of Time
One travel tip that can limit the amount of time you spend waiting in line at the airport is to check in ahead of time. Many airlines allow travelers to check in early and print their own boarding pass. If you only bring a carry-on, you can head straight to security.
27. Avoid Wearing Jewelry
Security lines can be a pain, but you can make life easier by leaving the jewelry at home. In some cases, you can keep your jewelry on while going through security, but it might set off the metal detector. So, you might have to put your bling in the bin or get a pat-down from security.
For best results, avoid wearing jewelry altogether and pack it in your bag instead.
28. Don’t Wrap Your Gifts
If you're going home for the holidays, think twice about wrapping your gifts ahead of time. After all, airport security might decide to unwrap your items to get a look inside. Save yourself the hassle by putting your family's presents in gift bags.
29. Volunteer to Go on a Later Flight
If you’re not in a rush to get to your destination, consider volunteering to get bumped off a crowded flight. Many airlines offer vouchers to people who give up their seats. In some cases, these offers are worth more than the original flight costs.
30. Check Your Flight Status Online
Before heading to the airport, check your flight status online. Delays happen, and instead of waiting at the terminal for hours, you can get real-time updates before leaving the house.
31. Mix and Match Flights
To get the best deals on flights, consider nixing the round-trip ticket in favor of two one-way tickets. One airline might have the cheapest departing option, while another might offer the most affordable return. You can purchase two one-way tickets on different airlines to save cash for souvenirs at your destination.
32. Make Copies of Important Paperwork
Travelers need to keep track of various documents, including airline tickets, passports, itineraries, hotel reservations and driving directions. As a result, it's easy for important items to get lost in the shuffle.
To ensure you have all of your required documents, make copies of the most important pieces of paperwork and keep them in your luggage.
33. Skip the Starbucks Line
While Starbucks might be calling your name on those early flights, skip the cup of joe and the line to save money.
Instead, you can score free coffee on your flight. Also, if you’re flying Alaska Airlines or Delta, you can enjoy Starbucks coffee as part of the complimentary beverage service.
34. Bring Travel Size
To ensure your toiletries aren’t thrown in the trash, make sure all liquids are stored in containers measuring no more than 3.4 ounces. Most people don’t have products of that size at home, so bring shampoo samples that you’ve received on other trips. Some stores also sell travel-size shampoo, toothpaste and other items for your convenience.
35. Bring a Spare Plastic Bag for Toiletries
Per TSA guidelines, your toiletries should be stowed in a separate bag for screening. However, those bags can break or get dirty during your travels. Bring a spare resealable plastic bag for toiletries for your next flight.
36. Keep Your Laptop Easily Accessible
When you go through security, you typically have to take out your laptop for screening. To move through the line quickly, keep your laptop in an easily accessible location, so you’re not digging for it while in line.
37. Check for Free WiFi
If you have time to kill at the airport, you might start browsing on your phone to stay busy. Instead of eating up all your data, check the airport website ahead of time to see if it offers free WiFi. If not, you might be able to browse for free while visiting one of the airport restaurants or bars.
38. Bring a Portable Phone Charger
Your smartphone could be your No. 1 travel tool. After all, it lets you access directions, view your mobile boarding pass, answer emails and communicate with others before and after your flight.
While most airports have charging stations, they can often be crowded. Instead of fighting the crowd, bring your own portable phone charger so you’re never out of juice.
39. Wear Your Luggage
If you truly want to avoid baggage fees, consider wearing your luggage. Some clever travelers have stuffed their jackets with items to save money. However, a company called Jaktogo has taken things a step further by creating wearable luggage.
40. Use the My TSA App
Using the My TSA app, you can get answers to your most pressing travel questions and assess what items you can and can't bring on flights. Additionally, you can get updates on delays, find out about cancellations and check wait times in the security line.
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To speed up your turn at the convenience belt, “the right carry-on bag [is key],” travel expert Dara Continenza of Hopper, an airfare-predicting app, told Southern Living. “Choose a lightweight carry-on bag with four wheels that handles easily and can be lifted onto a table with little effort.” Bags with an outside compartment for your laptop is helpful for expediting the process, too.
Related: Some of the world's most frustrating airports
Most Frustrating Airports
Most Frustrating Airports
36. YVR - Vancouver International
A traveler arrives at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. The number of international visitors to Canada plunged 20 per cent since 2000 even as global travel soars, according to a sobering report being released Thursday by Deloitte Canada. Photographer: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images
34. AUS - Austin-Bergstrom
Travelers walk the main concourse at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Sept. 14, 2007. Jim Smith, who oversees the city-owned airport in Austin, Texas, needed help fast. Mexico's no-frills airline, VivaAeroBus, wanted to make Austin its first U.S. destination, and Smith had no free gate space. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
33. YYC - Calgary International
The Air Canada Airbus A319 jet that was forced to land and unload injured passengers at Calgary International Airport after encountering trouble and making an unscheduled landing on Thursday Jan. 10, 2008. The Rocky Mountains are visible in the background. At least 14 people aboard were injured when the Airbus A319 hit turbulence during a cross-country flight, an official said.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
32. PHX - Phoenix Sky Harbor
The silhouettes of travelers are seen as a United Continental Holdings Inc. plane takes off from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Yields on benchmark securities climbed to almost two-year highs as consumers spent more on travel and tourism while manufacturing expanded modestly from early July through late August, according to the Federal Reserves Beige Book. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
30. SEA - Seattle-Tacoma International
Passengers in the C Terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) head to their gates on June 2, 2013, in Seattle, Washington. Seattle, located in King County, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, and has become a hub for many European and Asian global business destinations. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
29. YOW - Ottawa International
Travellers wait for baggage at Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. Canada's trade deficit widened more than forecast in June, signaling that the economy may have stalled or even contracted in the second quarter. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
28. MSP - Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Northwest Airlines jets wait at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport 30 May, 2006 in St.Paul, MN. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
27. SAN - San Diego International
A Southwest Airlines Co. airplane takes off at San Diego International Airport in San Diego, California, U.S. on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Airlines must reconsider buying new or used aircraft as rising interest rates increase ownership costs, which could outweigh fuel savings at lower prices. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
26. DTW - Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County
Vehicles sit at the curb outside the McNamara Terminal, serving Northwest Airlines among others, at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008. Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. pilots are working to find a compromise over union seniority, a hurdle to the merger that would create the world's biggest carrier, people familiar with the talks said. (Photo by Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
25. ATL - Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson
Delayed and stranded passengers waiting for flight information fill cubicles throughout Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after a snow storm on January 10, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency because of snowfall and ice across Atlanta and Georgia. A winter storm stretched across the Southeast as freezing rain and sleet followed on the heels of a heavy snow that blanketed the region. Airtran & Delta cancelled all flights out of Atlanta due to icy and snowy weather conditions. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
24. DCA - Ronald Reagan Washington National
Holiday travelers line up on Thanksgiving eve for a security screening before boarding their flights on November 27, 2013, at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
23. BOS - Boston Logan
The lines moved fast at TSA security checkpoints at Logan Airport's Terminal A. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
22. CLT - Charlotte Douglas International
A US Airways plane prepares for take-off at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on January 16, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina. US Airways flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River in New York City on January 15, 2009 shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport on its way to Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
21. DEN - Denver International
Security lines at Denver International Airport are long but moving fast, November 26, 2014. The airport was busy with thanksgiving travelers. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
20. SFO - San Francisco International
Passengers walk to the JetBlue Airways departure gate October 17, 2014 at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
18. BWI - Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall
Travelers walk in front of arrival and departure screens at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Chris Greenberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
17. YUL - Montreal Pierre-Elliot Trudeau
People gather to watch the Airbus A380 as it makes its first landing at the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport, 12 November, 2007 in Montreal, Quebec. Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Walid Bin Talal on Monday ordered an Airbus A380, making him the first private buyer of the next generation super jumbo aircraft. AFP PHOTO/David BOILY (Photo credit should read DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)
15. MCI - Kansas City International
With no planes in sight, a lone passenger waits out the ice storm cancellations at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri, Tuesday, December 11, 2007. (Photo by Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)
14. IAH - George Bush Intercontinental
Lines of passengers wait at a security checkpoint 22 September 2005 before flying out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, as people from south Texas evacuate in advance of Hurricane Rita. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
13. FLL - Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood
Jason Cohen of New York City, catches a few last-minutes of sun before he was to catch a scheduled flight home to LaGuardia Airport in New York, Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Almost 40 planes were parked at the airport Wednesday because of flight cancellations caused by the snow and ice storm in the Midwest and East Coast. Cohen said he was an 'optomistic,' traveler and thought he would get out today. (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
8. DFW - Dallas-Ft. Worth International
This 17 September, 2001, file photo shows an American Airlines jet taking off from Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas. American Airlines, the world's biggest carrier, announced 19 September, 2001, it was cutting least 20,000 jobs following the terrorist attacks against the US. No alternatives were being offered to fired employees because of the company's cash crunch after the 11 September attacks, in which two American Airlines jets were among the four lost, it added. 'This is, without a doubt, the most difficult thing I have had to do in my two decades at American,' chairman and chief executive Don Carty said in a letter to employees. AFP PHOTO/Paul BUCK (Photo credit should read PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)
7. YYZ - Toronto Pearson
Travellers scour the baggage claim at Toronto's Pearson airport for their luggage. Cold weather has caused a series of delayed or cancelled flights. January 7, 2014. (Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
1. LGA - New York LaGuardia
Travelers wait on line to check-in at the Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010. Passengers stranded when airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights amid a snow storm in the eastern U.S. may wait days for another flight as carriers move aircraft and search for seats on crowded planes. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images