Travel Tip: The fastest way to get through TSA security

From my upcoming book, 300 Healthy Travel Tips.

Few things are more agonizing than TSA security lines, especially when you’re racing to catch a plane. To save precious time and your sanity, try this smart time-saving trick perfected by the former Secretary of Homeland Security. If you are traveling with a sports coat or a jacket, wear it as you enter security. Pre-pack your wallet, phone, watch, gadgets, and a Ziploc bag with your spare change and keys inside your coat’s (preferably zippered) pockets. (If you’re not bringing a coat, put those items in separate Ziploc bags.)

Show your ID or other travel documents to the TSA inspector, then immediately put your ID in your pocket — don’t forget it! That way, you can keep your wallet secured inside your coat.

As you enter the TSA X-ray screening, put your things in the trays on the conveyor belt in the following order:

Tray 1: Your shoes and belt.

Tray 2: Your coat (containing your wallet, phone, keys, coins, and gadgets), with a Ziploc bag containing any liquids on top of that.

Tray 3: Your laptop or iPad. (You can often keep your iPad in your carry-on bag. See #4 below.)

Tray 4 (optional): Your carry-on bag. Extra points if it’s a TSA-compliant laptop bag, a smart accessory for the frequent-flying road warrior.

When you clear security, put everything back in reverse order — your shoes, then jacket. Your hands will be free to grab the bag of liquids and the computer. Put these back into your bag, which is the last item in the line. You should be able to avoid sitting down on the bench and keep moving to your gate. Smart.

Find the shortest TSA security lines before you arrive at the airport by looking on the Web or your phone. WhatsBusy (our favorite) and MyTSA are two websites you can check to find the current security wait times for each of the TSA inspection areas at your airport so you can pick the shortest line possible. The MyTSA app for iOS and Android phones can do the same thing.

Caveat traveler: Sometimes, the shortest line is not always the fastest way through airport security. Travel expert Peter Greenberg recommends looking for the line with only one TSA agent at the computer, monitoring the X-ray machine. If there are two agents at the computer, Greenberg notes it usually means the second agent is being trained. If so, each item going through the X-ray machine will be stopped and inspected more closely. Even if it means getting in the longer line, you can save time.

Enrolling in TSA Pre✓, or our favorite, Global Entry, can potentially save a ton of time by qualifying you for expedited TSA and Customs security screening. You can get fast-tracked through a special security screening lane, and you won’t have to remove your shoes, belt or gear. It’s not perfect, but often, having TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry can be a huge time-saver.

Pro Tip: Protect yourself from theft when putting your personal items and electronics on the TSA X-ray scanning conveyor belt. Don’t walk through the TSA metal detectors until you know your electronics and valuables are already in the X-ray machine. This way, you can be waiting on the other side to grab your coat and valuables instead of a thief doing that for you. And never leave your carry-on bags and valuables unattended in an airport (or train station or hotel). A surprising number of thefts occur each year in what is supposed to be a “secure” environment. Always assume that a thief or pickpocket is eyeing you when you travel.

Safe and happy travels to you!

From my upcoming book, 300 Healthy Travel Tips

Download my free .pdf ebook, 25 Healthy Travel Tips.