Get through the airport as quickly as possible: 5 expert tips

Summer crowds in airports can be ugly, with so many people, so many immoveable lines, so much chaos.

Most of us just suck it up, but there are better strategies for navigating terminals quickly, and they’re good year-round.

These are my top five:

1. Pay a fee that’s actually worth the money.

The TSA's faster airport security program, called PreCheck, isn’t free — and some think its $85 price tag is on the expensive side — but membership benefits are good for five years. And if you fly often enough, it can you save hours and hours of waiting in long, long lines.

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Sign up online, then make an appointment for an in-person interview (which will only last a few minutes). Then, wait for the email with your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to arrive, and follow the prompts to add it to your flight. When you get to the airport, you’ll zip through the fast PreCheck-only line, you'll keep your shoes on, and you just might feel a little like royalty.

Or, spend an extra $15 for Global Entry, which offers a faster re-entry into the U.S. when flying internationally, and it includes PreCheck membership.

Cheapskate method: One spouse joins PreCheck while the other does not, but even the non-member will often see the PreCheck designation on his/her boarding pass when the two spouses fly together. This is not guaranteed, but it’s very common.

2. Check the app.

If you’re thinking you really don’t need another app on your phone, think again, because this TSA app is special: It tells you which security checkpoint lines are moving well at your airport and which are not, so you can avoid the worst of them. Download the app here, or view wait times on the agency’s site.

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3. Be checkpoint ready.

Don’t feel bad; even TSA agents sometimes go through security checkpoints with big bottles of water and other no-nos, so there’s no shame when you do — but it sure does waste valuable time. Before your next flight, consult the TSA’s handy guide, “What can I bring?” which will inform you that a jar of Grandma’s homemade jam can only be transported in your big checked suitcase.

4. Use your pockets.

You don’t literally have to literally use pockets; a bag or purse will do, too. Just keep a few of the most neccessary items within easy reach to avoid wasting time. Bottom line: Keep everything you need on your person, be it passports, tablets or special treats, and keep checking to be sure it’s still with you. Example: Do not leave a security checkpoint, or your seat by the boarding gate, without stuffing your phone and charger cord into a roomy pocket. The airport's Lost & Found departments are filled with electronics, and if you do recall where you lost/left your things, getting these items back is time-consuming. Another example: Pack a lunch from home in an easy-to-access bag; it'll save money, but it'll also save time in the line at the cash register. 

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5. Get to airport earlier than you want to.

Arriving at the last minute no longer works. Today, airlines like American shut the boarding door at least ten minutes before departure, so if you show up at nine minutes ‘til take-off, chances are very good that you will miss your flight. Many carriers recommend people arrive at the airport 90 minutes to two hours early for domestic flights and up to three hours ahead for international travel. 

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site