No More Lines: How to Save (Significant) Time At the Airport

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The third secret to not having to wait in line at an airport is to check in at home.  The vast number of people I see in check-in lines never ceases to amaze me.  Internet access is as ubiquitous as hot and cold running water in people’s homes, yet many people seem to want the personal touch one gets when checking in with an agent at the airport.

I’ve been checking in online since airlines first started offering the service (Alaska Airlines was the first, back in 1999) and, more recently I’ve checked in for flights on my iPad tablet as well.  Some airlines (Ryanair comes to mind) have completely eliminated airport check-in and others have offered their frequent fliers bonus miles for checking in via a smartphone or tablet app (last year, Delta gave me several thousand miles for doing just that).

Not counting a tiny amount of ink and a piece of paper (not to mention electricity), online check-in is essentially free and it can save a long wait at the airport.   For some international destinations, especially those requiring a visa, it still may be necessary to check in at the airport but for the vast majority of passengers, online check-in is the way to go.


If you fly enough on one airline, you’ll gain so-called elite status (such as Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond on Delta or Gold, Platinum, or Executive Platinum on American) and, with few exceptions, you’ll be able to use the queues that the airlines reserve for their frequent fliers.  Flying in first- or business-class also puts you on one of these lines. This will speed things up a bit but there’s no guarantee you won’t have to wait: I’ve found that the first- and business-class lines to security checkpoints at JFK’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 4 sometimes come with a 30-minute wait (and yes, the line for main-cabin passengers is twice as long).

There are also other U.S. government trusted traveler programs such as Nexus and Sentri.  Nexus is a program operated in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency that provides members faster clearance across the shared border when travelling by land, sea, or air.  Sentri is a similar program for the U.S.-Mexican border, and Fast is a program for commercial truck drivers for both those borders.

If you really don’t want to wait, airlines, airports, and private companies offer a variety of services that range from access to a private terminal from which you will be transported by automobile to your aircraft (after going through a private security checkpoint) and the  services of an expediter who will cut lines on your behalf and get you to the front of the line and onto your flight before you even know it.  Munich Airport offers its new VIP Wing (pictured), American Airlines offers its Five Star service, and Gateway Special Services will provide an escort through security and passport control at airports around the world.

While these services all come with a fee attached, sometimes a little bit of pampering is just the right thing to get before a 14-hour flight.

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