Airport lines, the 21st century hack comedian's complaint of choice, are getting out of hand. The situation boiled over this week when "epic, unconscionable" lines at Chicago O'Hare, the second-busiest airport in the U.S., caused about 450 American Airlines customers to miss their flights last Sunday.
Via Slate, we know that this isn't an isolated incident as complaints about security processing time are up nationwide in 2016 and, with summer just around the corner, it's not going to get any better. There are a number of reasons for the doom and gloom, including: the TSA being a bit of a hot mess, Congress being slow to approve a "funding shift" that would allow the agency to hire extra staff and ameliorate the wait times, and, of course, fliers themselves who "still don't know the rules" even though the TSA has been a part of travelers' lives for a decade-and-a-half. Brief PSA: If everyone would just quit bringing prohibited items in their carry-on, it would really help.
There are possible solutions to the horror though. The TSA's Screening Partnership Program, which allows airports to beef up security staff through privatization while still adhering to TSA regulations, is in place at 22 airports across the country. The program has worked, anecdotally, but the TSA itself doesn't have enough data just yet to make a decision about expanding it to more airports.
Another possible idea: more dogs giving Pre-Check customers (more on that below) a sniff for explosives. The dogs would accomplish two things: be adorable and speed up screening lines as the TSA's explosive detection test, in my experience, adds about ten extra minutes to the process.
Sen. Bob Kerrey offered the novel idea of "let Disney handle it" this week with the common-sense-laden "Nobody runs lines better than Disney."
Short of a funding windfall, turning our nation's airports into theme parks, or you scoring your own private jet, chances are long security lines after check-in are somewhere in your near future. Here are some ways you can ease the pain of these long lines and maybe beat them outright, allowing you to get into tray-down, seat-back position as soon as possible without having to Hunger Games your fellow passengers.
Get there early
This one should go without saying, really, but you should be getting to the airport with enough breathing room to get through the lines, and even more so now. In the pre-Line-apocalypse days, that meant two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international. Now? Load up on your favorite podcast and tack on another hour.
Check your bag
This one is tough. Some airlines let you check one or two bags for free, others do not. Find out which ones do and go from there. If you (and other like-minded people) don't have to put a carry-on through a scanner, things are going to move along quite nicely. And, for the love of Pete, if you absolutely refuse to check your bag, don't try and sneak a gun by security: the TSA seized more guns than ever from carry-on luggage in 2015 and that isn't going to get you to Palm Springs any faster.
Pre-Check and Global Entry? Maybe shell out for those
an expedited screening program that gets you into a speedier line where you won't have to remove belts, shoes or outerwear/jackets, or take your laptop or 3-1-1 compliant bag of liquids out of your carry-on bag.
According to rough estimates, Pre-Check gets you through the line in half the time. That's more time to aimlessly wander through Hudson News and get Cinnabon.
Pre-Check takes some legwork though. It costs $85 (but for five years of expediency) and could take up to three weeks to get approved. Anyone can sign up for this and, so far, about 2 million already have. There's a but here though: some airports don't have it and those that do might not have their dedicated lines open all day. Educate yourselves, folks.
Now, Global Entry might be an even better idea for you, traveler. It's a special Customs and Border Patrol program that puts you in an expedited line while going through customs: both at the airport and at the Canadian and Mexican border. It costs $100, but it also lasts five years and includes Pre-Check, so if you're already doing Pre-Check, spend another $15 and drive to Montreal with less hassle.
To get it, sign up and endure a background check. If you pass, you have to interview with the TSA, and that could take a while, especially as everyone scrambles to join the program. When that's all settled, you'll get a cool ID and everything.
The only drawback is we don't know exactly what information is in that background check. According to Popular Mechanics:
we don't know exactly how TSA looks into a person's background to determine that they're a low-risk flyer
This is a problem for civil liberties groups like the ACLU. Are we signing over our privacy just to keep our shoes on? If we know so little about the process, how do we know people aren't being unfairly turned away from Pre-Check because of profiling?
It's all a question of how comfortable you are with that, though, and how much you would like to keep your laptop in your bag and your belt on.
Wait a minute. Pre-Check is just like FastPass at Disney World. Bob Kerrey, you fool.
Global Entry and Pre-Check sound a little too dystopian? There's a solution there, too
Several airlines are offering off-brand, single-use versions of these programs that add a bit to your ticket cost. Delta offers a ridiculous "premium check-in experience" that includes an escort to the front of a TSA line and a bunch of other perks, but it's $250 and only available on a handful of routes.
Philip Stewart, Jet Blue Manager of Corporate Communications, told me in an email that gate agents had started "monitoring security lines to identify customers at risk of missing flights and expediting them through the line."
Fly at a weird time
This one could be tough, but airports are less busy on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, statistically. Late morning, early afternoon, and red-eye time are also less frantic.
Become a Social Media Maven™
According to CNN, following airport accounts on Twitter and Facebook could give you the inside scoop about the security situation. How nice would this be to see while scrolling your feed?
You can achieve the same results through a Google search, too, if you're not savvy with Snapchat just yet.
Be patient and/or chill
In the event that there's really nothing you can do, if you relax and don't get too stressed out, and remember that no one wants to be in this situation, it'll be a less terrible experience.
What can you do to make this sucky experience less-sucky? Do something. I mentioned podcasts above, but you can catch up on emails, sext (I guess?), watch Game of Thrones, or you can even exercise (That thing where you stand on your toes? Squats? Sure, why not!).
Staycation? Ride the rails? Good old-fashioned road trip? Dirigible? All possible ways to avoid the headache of flying.
Don't pack your gun
I cannot stress this one enough.
Don't complain about it all
Air travel is a miracle (NSFW).
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org