Airport security checks: 3 tips to avoid them

Tips and tricks

We have all been there. You arrive at the airport breathless because you’re already 15min late and you absolutely don’t want to lose that flight…and find yourself before an endless security check.

These are our top 3 tips to make air travel a little less painful:

1. Take a shortcut and avoid the (crowded) security line altogether. How? With fast lane passes or “Trusted Traveler Programs” like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry . Whether you can take advantage of those will depend on the airport (first case) and your passport (second one).

2. If you’re already there, make the process as quick an efficient as possible. This includes being aware of security restrictions about things like electronic devices, shoes or liquids. Other passengers will thank you as well. There is nothing worse than being stuck behind someone who must fish out his shampoo bottle from the depth of his bag.

3. Choose the “less beaten path” when planning your trip: if you haven’t booked yet, select a more convenient time and airport.

Let’s review those.

1. Take a shortcut: Trusted Traveler Programs and fast lanes

What’s the difference between a Trusted Traveler Program and a fast lane?

Trusted Traveler Programs make sense for people who travel a lot between some specific countries and depend on agreements between those countries. U.S. CBP define it as “expedited travel for pre-approved, low risk travelers through dedicated lanes and kiosks”. Due to the “pre-approved” part, they require paperwork and background checks, besides a membership fee. Hence why they don’t make sense if you’re going visit a country once.

Fast lanes or fast tracks are usually services provided by the airport and can be used as a more specific “shortcut”, like when you’re about to lose that connecting flight. Its rules change depending on the airport. For instance, Frankfurt Airport fast lanes are available to all passengers of the flights displayed on the boards. Some offer the possibility to buy fast track passes. It’s the case of Barcelona (4€), Manchester (£5) or Luton (£3–5£). And most already offer the service if you’re flying Business or First class. Just check the airport’s website.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a government-sponsored program that started in October 2011. Enrolled travelers can go through a separate security line for domestic flights and international departures which doesn’t require removing your: shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets . According to TSA’s website, “In December 2017, 93% of TSA Pre✓® passengers waited less than 5 min”.

The 5-years membership costs 85$ and is available to USA citizens and permanent residents . You can apply on-line here , but will need to go through a in-person interview for a background check.

When flying back to the United States: Global Entry

When making reservations you’ll need to provide your “Known Traveler Number” or “KTN”; otherwise, your boarding pass won’t reflect your status.

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports (list of airports here ).

While TSA PreCheck is valid only with certain airlines (see the list of participating airlines here ), Global Entry is valid regardless of which airline you’re flying. As with the first program, you’ll need to apply on-line and go through a background check.

Unlike TSA PreCheck, it’s not only available to USA citizens; consult the list here .

Other Trusted Traveler programs

- USA, Mexico and Canada: for USA citizens returning through either Canada or Mexico, security and custom lines can be simplified with a NEXUS (USA/Canada) or SENTRI membership (USA — Canada/Mexico. There is some overlapping with other USA’s Trusted Traveler Programmes, since NEXUS members can use Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States via Canadian Preclearance airports, and SENTRI uses NEXUS lanes when entering the US from Canada. DHS has a handy chart comparing the different programs.

- Netherlands / FLUX : It seems like FLUX is being replaced by the Registered Traveller Programme , which will allows e-passport holders from some non EEA-countries to use the e-Gates upon arrival, speeding the process. It should be available during the 2018 to citizens of Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America.

- Netherlands / Previum : passport holders of the European Economic Area can obtain a Previum membership (130€ — 250€) and enjoy a super-fast security clearance in Schipol (Amsterdam) Airport thanks to an automatic eye scan (among other perks)

- The United Kindgdom has a program called Registered Traveller ; members don’t need to fill a landing card upon arrival and can use the UK and EU entry lanes. It’s available to citizens of the following countries .

Other agreements available to US citizens for a faster arrival to or from the following countries:

Germany — EasyPASS. Allows the use of eGates upon arrival to Germany ( website )

Ireland — US Citizen Preclearance. Passengers arriving in the US are treated as domestic arrivals, allowing them to avoid immigration queues upon arrival and pick up their bags and go. ( website )

Australia — Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI members with an ePassport can use the SmartGate System upon arrival to Australia ( website ). It also available to other countries.

New Zealand — Global Entry members can use a separate lane upon arrival at certain airports (AKL, WLG, CHC) ( website )

Korea — Smart Entry Service. Similar to the SmartGate System or eGates, the traveler can use an automated gate instead of a face-to-face inspection. This agreement allows Global Entry members to apply to the Korean SES program ( website )

2. Be aware of security guidelines

Do I need to take off my shoes off?

It depends. Airports with an older security technology (think walk-through metal detectors) will require you to take off both shoes and anything metallic. With more modern scanners (for instance, the one in Schipol airport ) you’ll only need to take out shoes with a thick sole like platform boots.

Liquids policy: what is exactly a liquid?

When thinking about liquids your shower gel may come to mind, but it also includes things like lipstick, mascara or toothpaste. One of the items travelers have more doubts about are stick deodorants. TSA’s official website says there are no restriction on them, which means they are not counted as liquids. Powders and crystals are ok too.

All liquids must be placed in containers of less than 100ml and in a plastic bag.

All other types though will have to be carried in containers of 100 ml or less. And as with all other liquids, they must be placed in a single, resealable and transparent bag of 1 quart capacity. It can be something as simple as a ziplock bag or a fancier TSA approved toiletry bag (which can be bought on Amazon from around 10$)

Electronic devices

Last year the United States banned all electronic devices on cabin (they had to be checked in) larger than a smartphone for passangers travelling from specific countries, but then revoqued the restriction.

But TSA has a new rule that still applies to all passengers travelling inside the US: now any electronic device larger than a cellphone (like an ebook or tablet) must be screened separately.

At the moment of this publication, flights to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also have restriction on electronic devices: any item bigger than 16.3 x 9.3 x 1.5cm must be checked in and are not allowed in cabin. As a reference, an iPad mini would be already over, at 20 x 13 x 0.6.

As a general rule, always screen your laptop separately. It’s also a good idea to take out digital cameras as well if their dimensions is considerable (for instance DLSRs)

Finally, the bag itself should be taken into account. I’m talking about the new smart luggage trend, which let you do things like charge your devices on the go or locate your via its built-in Bluetooth. The problem is, as usual, security; and some airlines like American Airlines, Delta and Alaska Airlines have already implemented a ban on smart luggage with non-removable lithium-ion batteries. Bags can still be checked if you take those batteries with you in the cabin. Bags with removable batteries are also accepted as a carry on.

American Airlines also added that non-removable batteries will be allowed, but only if the battery can be turned off.

3. Choose the less beaten path

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but there are certain dates when airports (and security lines) will be packed, no matter how efficient the travelers and the staff is. It will depend on the airport and country. In the US it may mean Thanksgiving, in Australia it’s Christmas and in Japan is Golden Week (between April and May).

If travel during those dates can’t be avoided, consider an alternative route through a smaller or secondary airport. Be careful though, as this can also backfire, since sometimes smaller airports also have fewer staff. The time needed to get there must be taken into account as well.

Also, if red-eye flights are not a problem for you, check-in and security lines are usually shorter for night flights.