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How to Save Time at the Airport

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

The number of passengers on US domestic and international flights continues to increase since February 2020. Currently it appears to be back to where we were pre-pandemic. On average 2.6 million passengers take to the sky every day in the US. And the percentage of people who have flown continues to go up year after year.

So what does that mean, lots of people are flying! The airport can be a busy, chaotic place and very stressful. It's gotten easier the more and more I fly but I still don't sleep that well and can't eat much before a flight. There's a lot to think about and a lot that can go wrong!

Some things we can't change or control like flight delays and cancellations and the TSA requirements. But here are some things you can do to ensure you have as smooth as an experience as possible when arriving for your flight.

Check In Online

Always check in 24 hours ahead of your flight online. For some airlines like Frontier, you are assigned seats when you check in so to get the best seat you want to check in early. And for others, like Southwest it effects your boarding group so it's always best to check in as soon as possible.

I also highly recommend using the airlines app for a few reasons. One, you can get a mobile version of your boarding pass. So if you are not checking a bag you can skip the desk and go right thru TSA. Two, it can keep you updated on your flight status and even tell you which carrousel your baggage can be picked up at. Make sure notifications are on and you should get a push notification if your flight is delayed. I always check the app for the gate and terminal as well. It's a great way to stay updated on everything involved with your flight.

Join an Airline Rewards Program

Checking a bag in my experience has taken longer than anything else after I arrived at any airport. My next tip is to join an airline rewards program and open a credit card to earn miles and status within that airline. Then commit to flying that airline as much as you can when you travel. We have an American Airlines card that we use for most purchases; gas, groceries, gifts etc so I've earned free flights and have moved up to their first level, Gold. As an Advantage member starting at Gold, you have access to not only priority boarding on the flight but also priority check in. This is an exclusive line just for members to check their bags and print their boarding passes. And guess what, I hardly ever wait to check my bag when I fly American! But any other airline such as Frontier I've had to wait a minimum of a half hour, no matter the airport. And when you pay for flights with that airline you earn miles for future flights so it's a win win.

This was Priority check in for American Airlines at JFK. We walked right up to a kiosk.

As a Gold member I'm guaranteed group 4 for boarding, no matter where my seats are and I'm automatically entered for a complimentary upgrade to Business Class if there are any openings. It doesn't happen often but once when I was traveling alone I got bumped up! It was a nice surprise. You also receive a free checked bag, sometimes two per person depending on the airline. On American I didn't have to pay for my bag even on an international flight to the Caribbean. And the further you move up in their tiers the better the perks gets but for the free flights, bags and priority perks alone it's worth it!

Enroll in TSA Pre Check or Global Entry

TSA PreCheck is 'expedited screening program that makes risk assessments about passengers prior to their arrival at an airport checkpoint.' Basically you go thru your own TSA line where the procedures are different so it saves you time. In order to qualify you will need to apply online then schedule an appointment at an enrollment center. They are fairly convenient to find for example in a local Staples store. The cost for the program is $78 and is good for 5 years when it can then be renewed online. This is only good for flights departing from the US so if you are out of the country it won't apply.

Once you are approved you will receive your own KTN or Known Traveler Number. This number must be entered while booking flights in order for TSA Pre Check to appear on your boarding pass. What you can do is enter it under your profile for all the airlines that you have accounts with, that way it automatically shows up when you book future flights. If you already have flights booked either modify the booking online to add it, call the airline or you can add it when you check your bags before you print your boarding pass at the airport.

In order to enter the TSA Pre Check line you must have TSA Pre Check written on your boarding pass. I've used it at a couple airports and never waited more then 10 minutes to get thru security. In this line you don't need to remove your shoes, belts, laptops, liquids, or jackets. That was always such a hassle for me, especially when traveling with my kids. Now I just place my bags on the belt, make sure my pockets are empty are walk thru!

Children under 17 are allowed to join you in that line as long as you are traveling together. I once travelled alone with both my boys and they were both allowed to go thru TSA Pre Check so it's not a 1 for 1 rule. However once they are 18 they will need their own KTN so they'll have to go thru the enrollment process. And if your child between 13 and 17 is going to travel without you they will need their own KTN.

If you travel internationally often then you may want to enroll in Global Entry. 'TSA PreCheck provides expedited security screening for flights departing from U.S. Airports. Global Entry provides expedited U.S. customs screening for international air travelers when entering the United States. Global Entry members also receive TSA PreCheck benefits as part of their membership.' So you get two for one with Global Entry.

First you have to create a TTN or Trusted Traveler Number account and complete the application. Then once your application is reviewed you will be contacted to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. However there are very few locations where you can schedule an appointment. In the state of PA you can only interview at either the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia International airports so this may take some planning. The application will cost $100 and if approved you will receive your personal TTN. Then when you arrive back into the US and enter thru customs you can locate the Global Entry kiosks, scan your passport, and your fingerprints and complete a customs declaration. So less lines and no paperwork!

Clear is another option that is growing in popularity. It is a membership program that is only available in 46 airports currently. Clear is a private company that uses biometrics to validate your identity instead of a drivers license or passport. Once you are scanned by the kiosk you are escorted right to the security line bypassing the TSA staff member who physically checks your ID. Clear Plus membership is $189 a year but it's also available at stadiums across the US. You could combine Clear and TSA Pre Check if you want to really save some time.

Some airports even have the option to schedule an appointment ahead of time. It's limited and there can sometimes be a fee associated with it but it could be a potentially free way to save time. There are even apps out there to track security status. MCO has one so you can see what the current TSA wait times are before you even arrive.

There is a free way to save time at customs. The MPC or Mobile Passport Control app is an official app of the US Department of Homeland Security. It requires you to enter in your passport info such as number, birthdate and expiration date for each traveler and upload a photo. Then you choose how you plan to enter the country and where including the terminal. You have to answer a few questions about what you are bringing with you then you can save the form. Once you arrive you submit the form where each traveler will receive a QR code. Look for the MPC line and proceed to an agent. When we used it last month that line was just as short as Global Entry and far shorter than regular customs so it saved us a lot of time.

There are many other ways to save time at the airport but these are the big ones in my opinion. Next time you are ready to travel be sure to reach out to one of the many knowledgeable travel advisors at Coasters & Castles Travel!


Melissa Lenox is a Gold Level Vacation Specialist and blog editor with Coasters & Castles Travel. She is a former entertainment cast member, loves Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel, Chip 'n Dale, great food and planning trips for others! Follow her on her pages below or contact her at mlenox@travelcnc.com to plan your next adventure!

www.facebook.com/MelissaLenoxCoastersandCastlesTravel 🌟 Melissa June - CNC Travel🌟 (@magicaltripswithmelj)


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