Live airport security wait times are the most significant challenge on the departure side of any trip. However, during these last many chaotic months of airline travel, TSA has been busy trying to come up with some ways to help savvy travelers cut the line and the time it takes to reach the departure gate.
The latest action by TSA is aimed at those who don’t want to take chances. Live airport security wait times are unpredictable, and although days and hours of peak usage are easy to monitor, faulty equipment, staff shortages, and contraband found in luggage can hold up the work even on an otherwise quiet day.
For those who want to jump ahead of the crowd, TSA is testing pilot programs that allow those with TSA PreCheck clearance to reserve an appointment.
One such program is currently in Beta at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Outbound passengers can sign up online with their airline, destination, and flight number and go to an assigned checkpoint bearing the LAX Fast Lane logo (an interactive map with step-by-step directions is available). From there, it will take seconds to minutes to get through the screening process and head to the gate.
The LAX Fast Lane pilot program is free to those who have signed on with TSA (now $78 for five years). The pilot program at LAX runs through January before being evaluated and launched elsewhere.
Creating new, legal, and leveraged ways to jump the security line is not new. TSA PreCheck (branded as TSA Pre✓) started in 2013 to give experienced and frequent travelers more efficiency and convenience.
The TSA PreCheck line was inevitably shorter than non-eligible lines, and those who signed on and had been cleared as trusted travelers could skip the shoe removal, digital devices scrutiny, and presentation of liquids in measured pouches—the most time-consuming and chaotic parts of the process.
Airport Security Wait Times Solved
The government version of the specialized line came three years after CLEAR showed up at some 25 airports and 14 sports venues across the U.S. to solve a problem that, until then, had no real solutions.
A patchwork of rulings, decrees, policies, and odd politics was pulling at flight passengers since the pivotal events of 2001. Since then, all new measures led to snags and havoc at airports, with some lines lasting as long as four hours while passengers were forced to unwrap gifts, toss out cosmetics and lose the manicure scissors and tweezers.
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But the new privileges came at a price. CLEAR, which now charges $189 annually, was a short line, if not a “clear” line, where passengers could get assistance with their carry-ons and move to the head of security protocols for screening. So the company created partnerships with credit cards and corporations and eventually caught fire as the way to go for frequent flyers who were inevitably in a rush to catch their plane.
CLEAR, too, now has a reservation program to mitigate airport security wait times and runs successfully at several airports. The system uses biometric ID verification to allow members to speed up the process at security.
Flyers click on the Reserve section on the CLEAR website to select the airport and enter flight details. They then choose a 20-minute time slot to arrive at airport security for their appointment. At the airport, they head to the “Reserve” line and flash the QR code received to be placed at the front of the TSA queue.
Travelers should note that appointments for either program are available only at certain terminals and during certain hours. In addition, appointment slots are usually given a 30-minute grace period.
The complimentary appointment service with CLEAR Reserve is currently running at 12 airports across North America and can be used in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Munich as well:
- Los Angeles
- New York
Travelers should note that TSA is on its game these days. Some 91% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited five minutes or less to get through airport security, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA.gov). Unfortunately, similar data from CLEAR is not available.
Also, it’s important to note that CLEAR’s services are not as widespread as TSA PreCheck. So, members heading to airports lacking CLEAR operations will be stuck in that snaking line unless they also possess TSA Pre✓ clearance.
Naturally, there are other workarounds for circumventing live airport security wait times, which also come with a dash of privilege.
Premium flyers, or those bearing upper-class tickets, are often given the added benefit of a dedicated airport screening line.
And for those with back-of-the-plane seats, some airlines allow for the purchase of line privileges. United, for instance, offers “Premier Access” to speed customers through security lines and grants them dedicated airport check-in lines and priority boarding. Prices start at $15 per ticket.
Southwest offers a “Fly By Lane” for direct access to the front of the ticket counter and security checkpoints at some airports. But passengers must hold a Business Select Fare ticket or be an A-List or A-List Preferred Southwest elite status holder with designations noted on their boarding pass.
Delta also offers Frequent Traveler Security Lines as part of its Sky Priority® membership. As a result, passengers enjoy expedited check-in, security, boarding, and baggage, as well as designated frequent traveler priority security lanes at some airports. In addition, dedicated security lines can be used by elite-status members of Star Alliance, oneworld, and upper-class ticket holders of other airlines.
Rock and Roll through Airport Security Wait Times
For busy executives who want the rock star treatment when it comes to navigating through airports can get it … for a price. These privileges, once experienced, may turn the airport snake dance into a distant memory.
Concierge companies such as Perq Soleil, Royal Airport Concierge, Airport Butler, and Air General (a number of them available by the topic and/or airport) are available at top airports. These services offer an agent that will meet the traveler at the drop-off point or car and escort them through the screening area before accompanying them to the gate or lounge. One might pay as much as $500 for a seamless escort for up to four people through a U.S. airport.
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Also on the extreme end of speedy airport navigation secrets are services such as the Private Suite, or PS, at LAX. The company has a separate terminal building with a private entrance, private security, dedicated customs clearance, and lounge amenities.
When it is time to depart, passengers will be driven to their commercial aircraft by BMW and bid farewell by a capped and uniformed chauffeur.
Such focused attention costs around $695 per use or $4,500 for an annual membership. And although the city of Angels is also the city of rock stars, traveling like one is accessible to anyone.