That title is misleading - truth be told, it usually take me less than 15 minutes from the time I enter the front door, clear security, and arrive at my departure gate.
Want to learn more? Read on!
There are a few simple tips that will help you get through the airport faster. And they work for anyone - for any size of airport.
It helps that my local airport is a regional airport - not a large hub like Atlanta, Los Angeles, or Amsterdam. Regardless, with minimal preparation, you can decrease the time spent with necessities of air travel and get to the fun stuff....... whatever that means for you.
First tip requires some thought and preparation. Are your flight days or departure times flexible? If so, choose a day or time that is less busy. For example, we just booked a flight to Panama over Thanksgiving weekend. Knowing that Sunday will be a busier travel day than Saturday for that weekend, we are flying on Saturday. If your airport has a lot of commuter traffic, its probably going to be busier at 6am than at 9am. Choosing flights and departure times that are less popular will help decrease time to check luggage and get through security.
Next tip starts long before you head to the airport. Most airlines will allow flight check-in 24 hours prior to departure - please note some international flights do not allow early check in because of destination visa and passport requirements.
Check in early if at all possible. In today's electronic era, many people choose to carry an e-boarding pass on their phones. Me, I'm old fashioned and don't trust that I will have internet access wherever I'm at, so I prefer a printed boarding pass.
So, my first tip is to check in ahead of time, get an e-boarding pass if you prefer, but print a backup boarding pass if you have printer access.
Here's another aspect of boarding passes to consider - if your boarding gets "flagged" for any reason, you will likely be required to clear additional levels of security at each layover. We were advised by airport personnel to reprint boarding passes. That seems to have worked, and I will provide updates if I have the unfortunate opportunity to check the theory.
What about checked bags? We all know that waiting in line to check a bag is a hassle. But did you know, many airlines (especially at regional airports) will plane-side check your carryon size bag for free - many will check it for you all the way to your destination. If you are able to avoid having items that required checked bags and willing to take the risk, being open to plane-side check is a great option. And it saves the time waiting in line to check your bag.
Lets go for the obvious first. I LOVE having TSA PreCheck. If you want more information about TSA PreCheck, it's best to go to the source. Having pre-check allows us to get into a dedicated line, not remove shoes, or remove liquids and computers from bags. In a word - Nice.
Regardless, always be prepared to go through the full drill at Security, TSA PreCheck or not. TSA agents do random checks of PreCheck passengers, so being prepared will help lesson the anxiety if you are selected.
Now for Security itself. Regardless of your destination, at the first Security checkpoint you will need to provide a form of identification (usually a driver's license or passport) and your boarding pass. Have those out and ready for the officer. Have your identification open or facing upward - in other words, make it easy for them.
Greet your Security agent warmly, and relax - take your cues from them. If they make polite conversation, respond in kind. Not being prepared, being unfriendly, not making eye contact, or being perceived as rude could delay the time required to get through the first Security touchpoint.
Preparation for Security starts long before arrival at the airport. I don't wear jewelry. My phone and items I want to wear during my flight are in my purse - yes I have been caught with a watch on, and believe me figuring out what that Ukrainian Security guard was trying to tell me was NOT easy. I don't wear a belt, I wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on, and ...... this one is important ladies (I also learned the hard way), don't wear those pretty blouses with metallic threads woven in. I would probably be cautious of some sequins. Metallic threads and some sequins WILL set off the scanners and slow you down. Papa Joe also doesn't wear a belt, and empties his pockets into his backpack before reaching the Security checkpoint.
Be reasonable. There are certain items that can't go through Security - no handguns, no knives, empty out your water bottle. More questions what can't go through Security? Here is a great resource for you.
Pack appropriately for Security. I have several medication bottles that need to travel with me and I pack those into a baggie, and preemptively pull them out of my backpack before sending it through the scanner (my inhaler has set the scanner off in the past). I also pull out my liquid bag, and make sure my computer and iPad are easily removable. I am likely a little overcautious with this tip, because I put my mascara, eyeliner, and lipsticks in my liquid bag. But I would rather be cautious than have those items get thrown away and arrive at my destination without them.. Seriously - 2 minutes to get everything off, out on the belt, and stand in line to get through the body scanner. Done
Wait patiently to be prompted to enter the body scanner. There isn't any discomfort, and again, it pays to be cordial, make eye contact, and remain calm.
After clearing the body scanner, wait patiently for your items to clear the belt scanner, then be courteous to other passengers and carry your items to a nearby seat if possible. This keeps the line moving for everyone behind you AND allows you an extra moment to organize yourself as you put things away.
Realistically - at this point I've been in the airport about 10 minutes, and most of that has been standing in line waiting for others.
Now, with all of that being said, I broke my own cardinal rules when returning home from Ukraine last year. We traveled from Ukraine to Vienna, and after a day layover returned home to the US. In total, I went through body scanners and security checkpoints at least 4 times and triggered the sensors each time. I was told my palms tested positive for residue, but frankly I think it was my shoes. I wore those buggers through the WWII catacombs in Odessa and walked miles on Vienna streets. I wore those shoes for both legs of that return home, and it just didn't occur to me that they likely had residue that was setting off the sensors. Lesson learned. One triggered sensor may be a fluke, twice is not.
What is next?
Now is the time to put yourself back together. Put the belt on, put on your jewelry. Make sure your ID is put back in its designated place. Make sure you have all personal items retrieved from Security. I even pack my purse - its easier for me to get hand lotion and lipstick out of my purse than out of the liquid bag. Just remember - if you are on international travel returning home, these steps will need to be reversed in preparation to return through Customs Security at home.
Find your gate, make sure your phone app is working if you are using it for your boarding pass. Gates change frequently, especially if it is a busy travel day.
My favorite next step is to purchase a bottle of water and gum. Note here - many airports are no longer selling plastic water bottles, you may want to carry an empty beverage container and fill it once you clear security. You may want snacks or other beverages, or even a book to read on the flight. Regardless, this is YOUR time now. Believe it or not, I have walked in my local airport, checked a bag (yes, really), went through security, and arrived at my gate in 16 minutes.
It CAN be done - your destination awaits!