Summer travel season is here! During the summertime, airports around the country fill up with tourists, couples, and families on summer trips. Unfortunately, the busy summer season also means the TSA is under greater pressure than usual — and that can mean long wait times.
As the summer kicked off, wait times at some airports approached 3 hours for domestic flights. At Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, wait times are an hour greater than they were in May of last year. Luckily, the TSA has been under pressure to cut wait times, and their experimental new checkpoints in Atlanta have done exactly that.
Even so, if you’re traveling this summer, you’re going to face lines that are longer than at any other non-holiday time of the year. The long lines are frustrating, but with the right preparation, you can move smoothly through the airport to your flight.
- Prepare Ahead of Time
If you can choose your departure time, try to fly during an inner weekday afternoon. Usually, the airport is emptiest from Tuesday to Thursday, 1pm to 5pm. Business travelers fill the airports in the mornings and in the evening after 5pm. And while you might find the airport empty for that 4am flight, you’ll also have to wake up at 3am or earlier.
If you have a connecting flight, then you have another element to consider: airline delays. According to Travelzoo data, delays domino throughout the day. The later you fly, the more likely your flight will be delayed.
Finally, check your calendar for federal holidays, school holidays, and big events in your city or at your destination. A holiday or major event can flood the airport and spike wait times upward.
If you’ve considered all three of these timing elements, you should be in good shape! Even so, you should observe some commonsense tactics to make sure your summer departure runs smooth.
- Most airports suggest how early you should arrive for your flight. If you’re flying through Hawaii’s Kona airport, you might only need thirty minutes to spare. If you’re flying through Los Angeles, you may need 2 hours. If in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to arrive an hour before your boarding time. If you’re traveling with children, you may wish to add another half an hour.
- Airport food is notoriously expensive. If you tend to get hungry on flights, or you’re traveling with kids, consider grabbing a meal and some snacks before you arrive at the airport.
- If you have a morning flight, pack your suitcases the night before. That way, all you have to do in the morning is turn off your alarm, grab a quick shower, eat breakfast, and head to the airport.
- Plan Your Parking
One of the longest delays in your trip can come from the dark, grimy airport parking lots. Hunt through the rows of filled parking spaces for long enough and you’re bound to find a free space — just in time to haul your luggage to the nearest elevator and then out to your terminal.
Instead, try designated airport parking with Park ‘N Fly. We’ll get you to a free space right away, and within five minutes of parking, we’ll drop you off at your terminal. No walking, no hassle. You can even your car washed and detailed while you travel, so you come home to a sparkling vehicle! See our rates for your airport.
- Skip Those Lines!
If you don’t need to check bags, you’ll save a ton of time at check-in. Simply confirm and print your tickets the night before your flight, and then walk straight to the airport security lines!
If you must pack a toy that your child cannot do without or an item that does not lend itself to bending inside of a suitcase, send it ahead. Most hotels will receive packages ahead of your arrival.
Sign up for CLEAR or TSA PreCheck
CLEAR is a new program that allows you to pre-register for flights and completely skip the first major airport bottleneck: the ID check. This is the long line you stand in before you’ve made it to the security scanners. In fact, the program promises you’ll make it to the security check in just 5 minutes.
Instead of waiting in line to show your ID, you can go through a dedicated CLEAR line, scan your boarding pass and your fingerprint or iris, and walk straight to security. You can even add your whole family to the plan (children under 18 are free). CLEAR is only available 13 American airports so far, but expanding rapidly.
The next big bottleneck in the airport is the security check. This is the dreaded section where you take off your belt, shoes, and jacket; unpack your laptop and any liquids; run your belongings through the scanner; and walk through a metal detector or full body scanner before repeating the process in reverse at the other end.
Luckily, the TSA has put together a program that lets you skip most of this process altogether. As a TSA PreCheck member, you can use a special, much faster security line apart from other passengers. There, you won’t need to unpack your bags or take off your shoes.
Registering with PreCheck can be a hassle, but for $85, a background check, and an in-person interview at an application center, you can skip security lines for 5 years. PreCheck is available at more than 150 airports in the United States.
If you sign up for CLEAR and PreCheck and don’t check bags, you could skip all three major airport lines every time you fly. Make sure to enjoy all those free hours!