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How to Skip the Airport Security Line

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How to Skip the Airport Security Line

Want to jump the security line at the airport? You can start your trip in style, feel like a rock star, and waltz by the masses shuttling along through glacial queues. As far as perks go, it’s an oldie but goodie. Front-of-line privileges have never been more important than now.

Security checkpoints are seeing record wait times often broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and the TSA’s own transit app. Thankfully, frequent flyers have a variety of methods for bypassing that line. No one method works for everyone. It depends how often you travel and how much you are willing to pay for the privilege. But these tips and tricks are so easy, you’ll wonder why you’ve been waiting in line so long.

Pay Once, Skip Often

TSA PreCheck allows you to bypass the security line
TSA PreCheck allows you to bypass the security line

The most widely publicized way to skip the line is TSA PreCheck, a service of the Transportation Security Administration. As long as you are a citizen or permanent resident who has not been convicted of a crime, you can apply, provide your fingerprints and documents at an enrollment center, and you will be issued a program registration number called a Known Traveler Number.

An astute and parsimonious frequent traveler recently pointed out to me that there’s no reason to pay the $85 TSA PreCheck application fee just to receive domestic benefits, when there is another program that offers more perks for $100. With Global Entry, you are automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck, and after an interview with U.S. customs, you can also skip the passport control line in the U.S. and other participating countries.

These methods do not guarantee early boarding on your flight, though I find using them and sitting right next to the gate and being the first to board in the main cabin group makes your wait time effectively zero.

One-Time Payment

Global Entry kiosk
Global Entry kiosk

If you don’t fly often enough to justify the cost of participating in one these programs, there is a simple and cheap way to access priority security screening and boarding: pay a small fee to fly in upper class.

On most airlines domestic and international when you pay for premium seats, whether premium economy or simply a preselected seat on an airline that charges you for the privilege, they sweeten the pot by throwing in early boarding and priority security screening.

Of course, for award travelers, the easiest thing is to book a first-class award ticket. Except for a handful of stingy airlines, this guarantees you lounge access as well as early boarding and expedited security screening. Be forewarned: if you are upgraded at the gate, your upper-class ticket may not be coded properly to allow you to skip the security line. It’s happened to me on several occasions.

Other Methods

Today, priority security screening and boarding is becoming an increasingly standard amenity for airline co-branded credit cards. You can read all about those and other credit card perks in our guide to using credit cards to skip airline fees.

As you’ve probably noticed on nearly every flight you board, valued customers, a.k.a. people with elite status, board before the hoards. However, now that many airlines allow passengers to pay for the privilege of boarding early, some levels of elite status may start losing the privilege. For now, Delta, American and United still allow early boarding and expedited security screening for all elite status levels.

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