Security lines and traffic can be unpredictable on the best of days, but honoring the two-hour rule will only save so much of your sanity. As you know, airports will be busier than ever during the holidays, so save yourself the stress and be prepared with these travel-smart hints.
Sign up for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
Though word is certainly starting to get around, many travelers still don’t realize that you can get a nice head start on international trips by getting Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.
Global Entry allows you to skip the long lines at immigration and customs by using official kiosks. It also offers head-of-the-line privileges at select U.S. airports, if you are chosen for additional screening. If you travel at least a few times a year, this is a priceless investment to save you from wasting time in line at customs. Global Entry costs a mere $100 and is valid for five years.
As a bonus, the TSA considers Global Entry members to be “trusted travelers” and automatically includes them in the affiliated TSA PreCheck program. Your Trusted Traveler number will be linked to your airline ticket, allowing you to breeze through airport security lines. And with more than 180 domestic airports participating in the program, the time saved really starts adding up.
Save your time in line
If you don’t have your Trusted Traveler number yet, there are a few other common-sense moves you can make to speed things along. For starters, avoid the lines with babies and children. They typically move slower, since car seats, strollers and diaper bags tend to be cumbersome and require extra time to be inspected.
Also, do your fellow traveler a favor by having your ID and boarding pass handy before reaching the TSA agent’s podium.
Another word of advice that never gets old: remove your shoes, heavy metal jewelry and belts ahead of time rather than waiting until you are at the head of the line.
Some extra tips
During the holidays, you may want to pack food for your loved ones or bring back pre-cooked favorites, but this can cause issues with TSA. Check the list of approved food online before your flight and make sure that all items are properly packaged according to TSA guidelines.
Though airlines have made impressive strides in the world of baggage handling, many people — and, yes, that includes Forbes Travel Guide editors — still prefer to travel with carry-on bags. If you pack light and avoid checking your bag, there’s no need to wait in line for a gate agent and you don’t have to put your airline’s “20 minutes or less” promise to the test at the baggage carousel.
One other headache-saving tip: type your flight number into Google to display all the latest info regarding it, including flight status, delay updates and any details on gate changes.
Donna Wong is the owner of allureplus travel, a premier travel provider and destination specialist. Her dedicated and trusted team offers travel services worldwide for individuals and groups.