They are calling this summer, “The Big Reunion.” as Americans, who have been locked down for months, are now getting back together with family and friends. If your summer travel plans include flying, you’d better plan to get there several hours before your flight. I know – I can hear you groaning. But hear me out. The lines are crazy long at baggage check and security right now. We had several clients flying last weekend (the first weekend in June) from DFW. They all reported lines longer than they have ever seen at D/FW, longer than the most packed Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas break. Others flying out of Austin reported the same thing – lines literally out the door to check baggage or print out tickets and hour-long lines to get through security. I’ve heard about travelers who arrived 2.5 hours before their flight ended up missing their flight and having to rebook. Yikes. We will be flying to Chicago and Orlando in a couple of weeks, so I will give you an update on those airports. Since O’Hare and Orlando are usually zoos during the summer months, we are bracing ourselves.
It seems that we are in somewhat of a perfect storm at this moment. Think about it – there is huge, pent up demand for travel since we have all been home since March of 2020. We have missed family reunions, graduations, weddings, seeing our parents, kids, siblings or dear friends. We have had to cancel or reschedule much needed vacations due to the pandemic and now we are traveling again. But, unfortunately, the TSA, airports and airlines had to do what many companies did during the pandemic - furlough employees or lay them off. It may take them a few weeks or months (hopefully not more than that) to bring their employee levels back to the appropriate levels to support this new surge in travel. But I believe they will. But in the meantime, here are some ideas to hopefully help you get to where you are going, on the flight you have booked, in time to receive those precious hugs from the ones you love.
1. Arrive 3-4 hours early this summer for your flight.
American Airlines and The Points Guy (his team follows the travel industry and offers great advice) are suggesting arriving at the airport 3-4 hours prior to your flight. I know. It’s a big hassle to arrive that early but missing your flight and having to rebook (if you can even find a seat on the next over booked flight) is a bigger hassle. Lean into it – plan to enjoy a nice meal, hang out in the airline club’s lounge (if you are a member) or bring a good book to read or video to watch. As I said before, this problem of extremely long lines is going to get fixed so this is not a forever policy. It is a commonsense approach to a (hopefully) short-term problem.
2. Carry on, don’t check your bag.
Carrying on is always a great idea. You save money, you save time not having to wait for your bag at baggage claim and you mitigate the possibility of the airline losing your bag. (John once had his bag lost while traveling in Europe. The airline reimbursed him for all his expensive suits and other contents in the bag but it was a hassle to replace everything. The funny thing is, the bag showed up unannounced over a year later. It had literally traveled around the globe for an entire year. Oh….the stories that bag could tell.
3. Use TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry or CLEAR
We signed up for TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry when it first came out and it has saved our family hundreds of hours of standing in line at security. With TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry, you go through security in a different (usually much shorter line), you don’t have to take off your shoes or coat, and you don’t have to take out your liquids or computer (unless you run into a surly agent). If you are returning from another country, the Global Entry part lets you do a quick check in with your passport at a kiosk rather than stand in the long customs/immigration lines. It is so nice to get home quickly after a long flight home. To get TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry, you must fill out an online application and then go to the airport for a scheduled interview. I was able to take all of our children to the airport at one time for our initial interview. As frequent travelers, we have found the cost of $100 for 5 years (certain credit cards now offer discounts for it or include it free in the annual cost of the credit card) absolutely worth it in saving time and hassles at the airport.
The other program, CLEAR, costs $189/year and is currently only available in 30 airports but it is fairly quick to sign up and gives you a touchless process at the airport. CLEAR uses biometrics (facial recognition and/or fingerprint scans) to verify your identity and then you go through a CLEAR security line (usually very short line as few people have CLEAR right now) or, if the airport doesn’t have a designated CLEAR line, they will direct you to the front of the TSA/Precheck line. But be ready to endure some angry stares as you skip to the front of the line. This program seems best for those who travel a lot. Our son had memberships for both programs (paid by his company) as he traveled every week.
If you travel just a few times a year, the TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry is probably the right option for you. And we do recommend signing up for both the TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry programs at the same time ( the fee is only slightly more) thus giving you the ability to walk right past the long lines and go home to your own bed after a long, international flight. However, if you know you are not going to ever be traveling internationally, you can just sign up for TSA Pre-Check for $85 and, according to their website, your approval will come through faster than if you are applying for both.
If you are a member of one of these programs, plan to use them for your travel this summer. If you are not yet a member, the sooner you apply, the quicker you will get approved.
Until our next adventure…
To learn more about the TSA Pre-Check Global Entry Program click here: https://ttp.dhs.gov/
To learn more about the CLEAR Program, click here: https://www.clearme.com/