Just about every entrepreneur flies at some point in his or her career. Some fly more than others. As someone who has accumulated more than 2 million air miles over the years, I've seen my fair share of airports.
And the most frustrating part of traveling is getting through the security screening. If you were to add up the total number of hours of productivity lost from people standing in lines, well, it's a lot. It might be where the nickname for TSA, Thousands Standing Around, came from.
So that begs the question: what can we do to get through those lines faster so we can get to the gate and spend our valuable time doing something productive or even relaxing?
Here are some tips I've learned over the years that can help:
Get TSA Pre Certified
If you've traveled at all recently, you may have noticed that there is a special line for some travelers that allows them not just to whisk through a shorter line and they also don't have to remove their shoes, belts, jackets or even take their computers and liquids out of their bags. Those are the benefits of applying for TSA Pre, which is truly a godsend for frequent travelers (and strangely enough it's the same level of security check we used 20 years ago). To get it, you need to apply--which involves an interview, background check, fingerprints and a survey indicating how often you travel. There's also an $85 fee. But if you're approved, you're good for the next five years. Just enter the TSA Pre number in your frequent flyer account and you'll be in the fast lane in no time.
And believe me, that's money well spent.
International Traveler--Get Global Entry
A related program that can also save you enormous amounts of time waiting in line at the immigration line at the airport is called Global Entry. This is a program designed for frequent overseas travelers that requires the same application process as TSA Pre (though the application fee is a bit higher at $100). In fact, if you get approved fro Global Entry, you're also approved for TSA Pre. The key benefit of this program for global travelers is that you get a card that helps you avoid the long lines at immigration you'll face upon arrival by going up to an immigration machine instead of an office. Place your fingerprints on the screen and the machine gives you a coupon you can then take with you on your way to customs, where you'll beat everyone on your flight to and hence not have to wait in line there either. The net result: you save potentially hours of waiting and frustration.
Now, if you can't justify TSA Pre or Global Connect, there are still some tactics to use in saving yourself plenty of time and hassle.
Get Your ID Ready
Watching people scramble to find their ID just as they reach the TSA agent makes me want to pull my hair out. It's simple: get your ID out before you even get in line.
Wear Loafers or Loosen Your Laces
It's a great idea to wear slip-on shoes like loafers when you're traveling. But if you have shoes with laces, loosen them up while you're waiting in line. Then, you can pop them right in the bottom of your bin that goes through the screening machine and slip them back on once it is screened.
Empty Your Pockets.
I can't count the number of times I've seen people who walk up to the metal detector without a clue that they were supposed to take off their watch or empty the change from their pockets. I've found that the best approach is to simply put everything in the pockets of your jacket, which you'll lay on the top of your bin--before you get to the machine--ideally when you are in line. Then, once through the detector, you can put on your jacket and then slip on your shoes in mere seconds.
Pick Your Line
When approaching the scanning machines, you should check who is in line ahead of you. A line of organized business people that are clearly veteran travelers is the line you want. Families, people headed on vacation and amateur travelers--avoid this line!
Avoid the Liquids.
Hey, I know everyone has to brush their teeth and wash their hair. But when you're traveling, it's best to leave the liquids at home. That way you can avoid having to pack them in a plastic bag, which you'll have to take out separately to be scanned. Most hotels have complimentary items that should get you through most of your needs, so take advantage if you can. if you have to bring them, put them in a zip-lock bag in an outer pocket so you can remove and replace the liquids quickly.
Leave Your Laptop.
Did you know that you don't have to take tablets like an iPad out of your bag when it goes through screening? Let me tell you, taking your laptop out can be a real pain -which is why I avoid bringing it if I can, especially on short trips of 2-3 days. I find that my tablet and phone are usually plenty to keep me connected with email and any reading I need to do. Of course, if you want to spring for a TSA certified laptop bag, that can work, too.
One of the big logjams that happens at security is that everyone is scrambling to put their shoes, belts and jackets on just as their come off the conveyer. I've found that, especially if I don't have liquids or a laptop to worry about, I can quickly grab my jacket and, after quickly slipping on my shoes, walk away from the chaos until I find a comfortable place to sit and put myself together.
If you follow these steps, you'll find that you'll save precious minutes every time you go through security--which can add up to a ton of time over the course of a year.
Now, of course, a lot of that savings on time can be quickly destroyed if the people ahead of you do everything they can to slow things down. That's why it might be a good idea to keep a few copies of this article in your briefcase that you can hand out to those not-so-savvy travelers.
Can you imagine what traveling would be like if everyone followed these rules? Priceless.