The security situation in this nation’s airports is in a constant flux. Checkpoints differ from terminal to terminal and it seems like there’s always a new rule or restriction governing luggage. It’s actually partially built that way for a reason; part of the Department of Homeland Security’s strategy involves variety in your checkpoint experience. That’s why sometimes you’ll be directed through a millimeter wave detector while other times you’ll go through a magnetometer. Without a regular security cog in place, it’s hard for opposing forces to plan in absolutes.
Thankfully, a few measures have developed in recent months to relax part of the security runaround for many travelers. Some of these are backed by the DHS while others are facilitated by the airlines or third parties. Each is built to reward the prepared traveler with shorter lines and faster transfers at the airport though, and those minutes can be critical.
TSA Pre Check
A new program from the Department of Homeland Security is now being offered for frequent flyers of many airlines with proven travel records. Called TSA Pre Check, the program collects additional data about a passenger and his itinerary and then works with the airline to track the passenger and provide expedited screening.After registration, a Pre Check passenger is allowed to go through a special line at security with reduced screening. Shoes and belts, for example, need not be removed, and many electronics (including laptops) can be left in their carry-on. Lines at these checkpoints are almost always nonexistent and magnetometers are used instead of advanced imaging technology.
To enroll in Pre Check, first join your airline’s frequent flyer program and sign up in its Global Online Enrollment System. After that, contact your airline and ask to opt-in. At American Airlines, you can opt-in by contacting customer service.
An alternate route to earning TSA Pre Check involves enrolling in Global Entry, the program for expedited customs processing when crossing international borders. Since that program already collects the data that Pre Check needs for enrollment, the benefits can be extended.
The private security-expediting program Clear has been around for several years in fits and starts and its current incarnation is operating at a half-dozen airports around the nation. In a similar fashion to Pre Check, Clear works by collecting several pieces of biometric data on the passenger for use as a screening measure at the airport. Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, Clear members can cut the line at the X-ray and zip straight through, saving the effort of waiting in long lines. Where lines are shorter this may not be a useful benefit for all passengers, but when the terminal gets crowded, this can be a lifesaver.
If volunteering extra personal and travel information isn’t your thing, there’s still a decent way to shorten the wait at security through a priority access line. Set up by the TSA and the airlines, these lines are normally reserved for business- and first-class passengers, but access is slowly expanding. Certain credit cards, for example the United Mileage Plus Club Card, give you access to expedited screening as well as a host of other benefits. If you earn elite status on almost any carrier you’ll also automatically get access to a priority line.
Bear in mind that passengers going through a priority line at the airport are subject to the same screening as regular travelers. Priority access lines are just much shorter.
[Flickr image via joiseyshowaa]