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How To Save Time At The Airport

No one really enjoys the process of going through the airport to the boarding gate. And there is always going to be someone, who for one reason or another, makes the waiting that much harder on everyone else. While no one is absolutely certain of how long a check-in or security line is moving, there are certain things travelers can do to streamline the process while providing for a better traveling experience and making it easier on others trying to get through. Here are five tips on how to save time the next time you're headed to the airport.

Sign Up For TSA's PreCheck

TSA's Precheck isn't for everyone. But for frequent fliers, students at American military academies and others, this service makes travel through U.S. airport checkpoints a much better experience. Participants of the TSA Precheck program will enjoy faster moving lines and won't be required to remove belts, shoes, jackets, laptops and 3-1-1 compliant bags. Travelers interested in participating in the TSA Precheck program must fill out an application with a nonrefundable processing fee of $85 and, if eligible, will be fingerprinted. Up until just recently, random Precheck passes were issued to lucky travelers but because the program has become successful, this practice is in the process of being eliminated.

Related: Ask Hotwire's Henrik Kjellberg How To Rent A CarAirport Check In (credit: Randy Yagi)
Check In Online

Most airlines now allow travelers to check in online 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure. After the trip has been confirmed, travelers have the option to print out a boarding pass or if it's available, have a digital pass sent to a mobile device that can be scanned at select airports, including Chicago O'Hare, Houston, LAX and New York La Guardia and Kennedy. Because Southwest Airlines doesn't have assigned seating, many travelers print their boarding passes or check in with a mobile device early for a chance to be among the first group of passengers to be seated. Southwest also offers an EarlyBird Check-In or an upgrade to priority boarding for an additional fee. If checking in online isn't an option, travelers can use one of the check-in kiosks at the airport as long bags aren't being checked. Certain major credit cards such as United Airlines' MileagePlus Explorer Card, American Airlines' Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card and Delta SkyMiles all feature priority boarding for cardholders.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Check In Baggage

Because lines tend to be much smaller and move more quickly, travelers should use the curbside check instead of the counter. While checking in bags will take extra time at the airport, it's far easier to navigate through the airport security lines when a traveler is only carrying a purse or small carry-on bag. If bags need to be checked in for a domestic flight, travelers should arrive at least 90 minutes prior to departure. In any case, it's helpful to check the flight status and arrive with plenty of time before flight departure to offset any unexpected delay, especially at heavily congested airports like LAX, JFK and Chicago O'Hare.

Laptop Backpack (Credit, Randy Yagi)

Packing Smart

Any piece of luggage should be packed in an organized manner, especially carry-on bags, and not just because clothes are less wrinkled. When passing through the security checkpoint, the boarding pass and acceptable form of ID must be within easy reach and valuables such as jewelry, cash and laptops should be tucked away in the carry-on bag, rather than in checked luggage. Travelers must also observe the 3-1-1 liquids rule and have liquids such as gels, creams and paste limited to 3.4 ounces and placed in a quart-sized, zip-lock bag. To prevent any unnecessary delays, passengers must know what size luggage is allowed onboard. Size restrictions for carry-on bags vary between airlines but typically range from 45 inches (22 by 14 by 9 inches) to 50 inches (24 by 16 by 10 inches). If a bag is deemed too large to fit in the overhead bins, it may be checked in, resulting in a baggage fee. For travelers with laptops, a "checkpoint friendly" laptop bag can further streamline the process and provide better protection to the laptop. Lastly, travelers must be aware items that are prohibited through airport checkpoints.

Backpacker (Credit, Randy Yagi)

What To Wear

Getting through airport security faster also means dressing the part. Items containing metal like jewelry, earrings, rings, watches and belts should be stored in a secure spot before reaching the checkpoint. Coats and jackets can be stored in checked baggage or must be placed in a bin for screening. Any type of footwear that can be easily slipped on should be worn for quick removal and a more efficient process through the security lines.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on


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