Long security lines at the Denver International Airport have been in the news this week, but it’s not the only airport frustrating travelers. Airports around the country are seeing massive increases in travelers, and it’s easy to see why this is a perfect storm when you consider:
- Understaffing issues – the TSA has been recruiting agents all summer but it turns out it takes time to ramp back up to full staff
- Travel surges – in some airports, the domestic travel rates are 95% of pre-pandemic levels
- Rusty skills – travelers haven’t seen security lines for a year or more and their speed of unpacking toiletries and electronics is slow
Specific to DIA’s recent woes, construction has also impeded into the security checkpoint areas, causing the closure of 12 screening lanes.
Fly off peak
One of the best things you can do to avoid massively long security lines is to travel off-peak. That means early morning flights and starting out at small airports.
No one wants to get out of bed so early you arrive at the airport before anyone is awake, but doing it gives you first dibs at getting through security quickly. If you’re lucky, there will even be coffee and tea on the other side.
While local airports are plagued with the same TSA staffing issues, the number of travelers is far less. Once you’re behind the security line, you’re golden. If you start your trip at a smaller airport, you can avoid the chaos at larger airports.
Enroll in TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Clear
As security lines grow longer, many travelers have reconsidered these options. The services are not free, but many popular credit cards will give you credit for enrolling in one of these plans. Having just one of these expedited options can help you get through security faster.
Here’s a quick explanation of each:
The most important perk is nearly empty security lines and the ability to speed through security. clear is a membership program that uses biometric authentication (fingerprint or eye scan) instead of an agent to inspect your ID. After your identity is verified, the Clear representative will take you to the expedited security line.
Is it worth it? See a Clear review by The Points Guy
The best perk about this service is that it lets you speed through US Customs and Border Protection quickly, so it’s ideal for international travelers. When entering the US (at select airports), you won’t need to fill out paperwork or wait in processing lines. Instead, you use a Global Entry kiosk, complete your customs declaration, and take the receipt to the officer.
Bonuses: Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck and kids of all ages are eligible to enroll.
The most significant perk is access to dedicated faster security lines at most US airports. Plus, you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, light jackets, or laptop.
Not sure if your known traveler number (KTN) is still active? Check your TSA PreCheck expiration date.
Check TSA wait times before you arrive
If you want to know just how early you need to get to the airport, the MyTSA app can help. It lets you check the wait time at the TSA gate at airports around the country. You can see:
- How busy the airport is likely to be on a specific time or day, based on historical data
- Live, crowdsourced wait times contributed by other MyTSA users
- If your departure airport has a TSA PreCheck line
It’s also a great way to keep track of your KTN 😉
A final word: Looking into November, and just as the US opens to international travelers, the TSA is not only understaffed, it’s at risk for low vaccination rates. All TSA employees must be fully vaccinated by November 22, the Monday before Thanksgiving. So far, only 60% of the workforce is vaccinated, which could result in longer lines if TSA staff are furloughed for late vaccinations.
Other interesting news
Inbound travelers – International travel spiked after the announcement that US borders are re-opening.
Public opinion vaccines to fly – 7 out of 10 US travelers want them, so do many medical experts.
COVID Boosters – Should you, and can you, get a booster vaccine before you fly?
Best travel plan right now – Might be having a backup travel plan.