Peak travel periods – including holidays and times when schools are in recess – usually mean packed planes and long lines in airports. The security experience will probably be a nightmare, too, but we can make that a little easier.
Airport Security During Busy Travel Times
Two important things to do during peak travel periods (or any time):
1. Get to the airport early
Airlines often give advice on when to arrive but if not, try this:
- Domestic flights: Arrive 2 hours early
- International flights: Arrive 3 hours early
Don’t forget to factor in heavy traffic on the roadways and crowded parking as you calculate when to leave your home.
2. Be prepared for security
In the U.S. and other countries, security preparations means no large containers of liquids through checkpoints (meaning no containers bigger than 3.4 oz. or 100 ml.). Other rules often include no sharp objects that could be used as weapons and the removal of shoes.
Where to Find More on Airport Security Rules
This will vary from country to country. If you don’t see your nation listed below, do a search for ‘airport security’ and the country’s name. Airline and airport websites often have good information as well.
- United States
- European Union (includes additional links to several countries)
- Mexico (general information plus links to popular airports)
Also, search for programs that allow for faster security experiences like TSA’s PreCheck for U.S.-based travelers.
How to Join the TSA PreCheck Program
A first person account by FareCompare editor Anne McDermott who joined PreCheck in 2016. She said it was a simple matter of following these 4 steps.
Step 1 – Sign-up online
I went to the TSA PreCheck Apply page to sign-up and answer a series of mostly yes-or-no questions like these:
- Have you ever used a maiden/previous name?
- Have you ever used an alias?
- Is your mailing address the same as your residential address?
- Have you lived at your current residential address for more than five (5) years?
I was also asked to describe myself including hair color which included the usual shades as well as descriptions such as “bald, blue, green, pink, purple” and my personal favorite, “unknown.” Then there were more serious matters, including:
- “Excluding juvenile cases unless convicted as an adult, have you been convicted, pled guilty including “no contest” (nolo contendere), or found not guilty by reason of insanity, of any disqualifying felony listed in TSA Eligibility Requirements, Part A, in any jurisdiction, military or civilian?”
The same online application then directs you to make an appointment for a required in-person interview (Step 2). Depending on where you live, you may be given a variety of location options including local airports, and some allow walk-in interviews but I opted to set an appointment. This was a busy time for the TSA, so I had to wait about two weeks for an appointment.
Step 2 – The interview
My interview took place at the office of a small tax business that leased space to the TSA.
Interview: It wasn’t much and nothing to be nervous about. I was shown my online application and asked the verify my answers (“Yes, that’s what I wrote”). Then I had to place my fingertips on an electronic gizmo to record my fingerprints (no ink, no mess). Then I handed over a credit card which was dinged for $85 (good for a five year PreCheck membership) and that was it. Took just a few minutes and I was told to await an email.
Step 3 – Acceptance
About a week after the interview, the email arrived telling me I’d been accepted into PreCheck. To complete the enrollment process, I had to retrieve a Known Traveler Number (KTN) from universalenroll.dhs.gov. From there it was a simple matter of clicking ‘Check Status’, answering a few easy questions to verify my ID, and getting the KTN.
Step 4 – Use your KTN
Then I booked a flight, adding my KTN in the appropriate space along with name and contact info. Again, really simple and it made security simple; as a PreCheck member, I was allowed to keep my shoes and light jacket on, my toiletries stayed in my carry-on and my laptop in its bag. Best of all was the fast PreCheck-only security lane.
Was it worth it?