According to TSA (TSA Press Release), this year has screened an extra 6% or 13 million more passengers than this time last year. in addition to the stresses of all the minute details of your trip, you'll probably also experience long lines, security check points, and k-9's sniffling at your unspoken parts and baggage. In a recent trip from Seattle to California, I experienced what has become the norm for a city who's infrastructure hasn't caught up to it's population growth. After getting my print ticket and checking my bags, it was time to get in the security check line. I walked up the escalators and started heading to the line. To my utter amazement, the line was longer than I had expected--much longer. I looked down the airport corridor and couldn't see a clear end to the line.
So, I walked ...
... and walked ...
... and walked some more ...
only to find that the airport had set out countless line dividers that people would have to weave in and out of until we got into another large section where we would repeat the whole process and finally going through the whole process one more time until we got to the TSA Agents. It took 5 mins just to walk to the end of the line and then another 45 minutes to get in front of the TSA Agent, not to mention getting through the security checkpoint and all of those x-ray machines.
Luckily, I practice a simple routine every time I go to the airport which kept me cool, calm, and collected instead of frustrated, furious, and late for my flight. You can practice these simple routines so you can survive long airport lines as well.
Show Up Early
No one wants to run through the airport in a frantic hurry only to make it to the gate with a closed door and your flight taxiing away--only a couple minutes away from a cushioned seat, salty pretzels, and a cool refreshing beverage. That's why I always leave my house at least 2 hours in advance. Since it takes me 20 minutes to get to the airport from my house, that leaves me 1 hour and 40 minutes to check-in, go through security, and make it to my gate. In Seattle (my home airport), it is relatively easy to make it through in that amount of time (and grab a quick bite to eat or some coffee). There are times, however, that I add onto that 2 hour timeframe. When I'm flying on a holiday (or during a special event), when I'm flying during a peak hour in the day, or when I'm flying international.
People want to travel during the holiday season to see family and friends, escape from the daily grind of work, and make new traditions and memories with loved ones. During these times, I typically leave an extra hour or two earlier. In my recent experience, I traveled during Labor Day weekend and saw a dramatic and exponential increase to the regular Seattle airport traffic. Not only are holidays already a busy time, it will only get busier and busier. Over the last year, 6 of the top 10 busiest days of travel have been within 2018 (TSA's Top List). All of these days were closely around Independence Day and Memorial Day. This was already on top of last year's record breaking Thanksgiving travel. I cannot imagine what this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas season will look like for airports around the country. So if it is one of the top 6 American holiday seasons (New Year's, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), I schedule an extra hour or two to my pre-flight arrival.
Every location has peak times of travel. Seattle summers are absolutely gorgeous, so when your scheduling your trips to Seattle in June, July, and August remember to show up a bit earlier to the airport. That's true for all major tourist areas. For every area that I go to visit, I look to see when they're peak season of travel is. If it falls within that time period, I leave an extra 30 minutes earlier.
Going to a country requires you to go through customs, so I always leave an extra 2 hours early (between 4-5 hours before the flight takes off). 9/11 changed the scrutiny of security all around the world. When going internationally, you typically have to check more baggage, go through more security checks, present your passport/visa, and fill out extra paperwork. This is the best case scenario. If there are any complications with your paperwork, bags, tickets, or any number of things that could go wrong, you will be trapped standing with TSA Agents for a good amount of time. (And, while they are concerned about you catching your flight, they are more concerned for the safety of everyone, so they are not afraid of you being late to your flight.) If you arrive too early, what's the worst case scenario? You are just REALLY, REALLY early to your flight. You can grab some food and beverages before your long flight and take some nice airport instagram photos for all your friends. This saves you from missing your very expensive international flight.
Airport security scrutinizes a lot! You cannot bring liquids that exceed 3 oz; you cannot bring tweezers in your carry-on baggage; and, for those firework fanatics, you'll have to leave those at home too :-). In addition to all fo this, they will also make you remove your shoes, belts, jackets, bobby-pins, and certain jewelry. You get made up before your flight only to strip it all off in the airport. This adds extra time onto your airport journey. That is why I dress in a minimalistic manner. I never want to take off any clothes at the airport because 1) it adds time and 2) it's just such a hassle. My typical airport uniform is a pair of slip on shoes (depending on the look I'm going for, I have anything from the class tennis shoe to a more dressed up loafer), sweat pants or jeans that do not require a belt, a long sleeve t-shirt or button down shirt (I get a little chilly on planes, so I wear something that covers my arms), and (if it's especially cold outside or a long flight where I know I'll be sleeping) a cardigan that I can throw in my carry-on bag. Because of the simplicity of this routine, I not only have a greater ability to dress comfortably, I can also get through airport security in a breeze.
Organize Your Documents
Another thing that adds time is not having all of your documents ready. People walking through the lines, only to show up in front of the TSA Agent having to fumble through their bags to find their ticket, license, and passport. I have been in that place where I stick all my paperwork into some part of my bag only to forget which of the 28 pockets in my bag I stuck it in. I then freak out as people stare a hole in the back of my head. Sweating I look through the 27 other pockets with no luck and the very last pocket that I check ends up having my ticket. Finally, I found it! I give them my ticket and then they ask for my license ... flustered, I fumble once again to figure out where my license is at (duh! It's in my wallet). Because of this, I have developed a routine to organize my documents so I never have to riffle through my bag and waste everyone's time in the line. I always carry all of my documents in my hand until after the security checkpoint. No forgetting where my ticket is; no forgetting where I keep my license, no eye daggers from strangers at the airport; it seems like a win-win for me.
Wrapping It Up:
Airport lines will only continue to get longer and more complicated as time goes on. If you practice these three tips every time you travel then you'll stop stressing about whether you'll miss your flight. These are simple routines, but when you put them into practice, you'll be reassured that you'll catch your flight with time to spare--especially if everyone starts to practice these simple tips.