How to Make Sure Your Memorial Day Travel Plans Go Smoothly: 9 Tips to Defeating TSA Lines and Holiday Traffic

Before you head out on your long weekend vacation, check out these hacks for surviving those long security lines

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty

Just when you thought airport travel couldn’t get more stressful, the Transportation Security Administration seemed to get even slower over the past few months – with complaints over long security lines building up on social media (#IHateTheWait).

On Monday, the TSA attempted to fix the situation – and internal wrongdoings – by replacing its senior leadership team, instating a new top security official and adding a group of administrators at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

It’s a big move, but don’t expect to see changes in your wait time right away. While more staff is being put in place at check-ins, chances are lines this Memorial Day weekend are still going to be long. More than 38 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend – the highest it’s been since 2005. Plus, the cost of airfare is down 26 percent from last year. Get ready.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out for the long weekend. If you haven’t booked a trip yet, check out last minute deal sites like Airfare Watchdog and Kayak – which can offer you great rates on flights and hotels. TripAdvisor can help you narrow down locations too.

As for those pesky long lines – all hope should not be lost! Here are 9 tips to make the experience way less painful.

1. Come Prepared
The easiest way to ensure a smooth transition through TSA security is to come prepared. Read through the list of prohibited items and prepare for the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule by placing all your liquid items in a clear plastic bag. Use your time in the line to prepare for the screening, removing jackets, sweatshirts, jewelry, belts, shoes and any items in your pocket if you can. The biggest delays always come when travelers have to confront the realities of the screening at the last minute.

2. Carry On

For a long weekend trip, packing a carry-on is really all you need. It’ll allow you to check in online before you arrive and hit up the security line right away. Just be careful your carry-on isn’t over the legal size, or else you’ll be forced to check it and start all over again.

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3. Arrive Early

Remember how you used to have to arrive at the airport an hour before boarding to make it through security? Yeah, not anymore. The TSA is saying you now need to give yourself two to three extra hours, with longer waits coming at larger airports like New York’s JFK and LaGuardia, Chicago’s Midway, Seattle’s Sea-Ta and Los Angeles’ International Airport. Better pick up a magazine or two at Hudson News afterwards…

4. Listen to Your TSA Officer
The world may not be happy with the TSA right now, but they generally know what’s up when it comes to finding the fastest line. If there’s more than one pathway to your gate, you might find that the line closest to your gate won’t be the shortest. Ask nicely. Your agent will have tips on where to go to save you some time.

5. Take the Fast Track

If you’re a frequent flyer, you might want to invest in a fast-track package. You’ll have options: TSA PreCheck ($85 for 5 years), Global Entry ($100 for 5 years), NEXUS ($50 for 5 years) and Clear ($179 a year at select airports) all provide expedited clearance through security.

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6. Go Elite

Most of the major airlines offer elite travel status, which can be earned through airline loyalty. ( will show you how frequent flyer miles transfer between airlines, if you need). Elite status will give you a shorter TSA experience. But if you haven’t earned the status and have the money to spare, you can also buy into some of these program rewards buy upgrading your ticket. Even the smallest upgrade like extra legroom come sometimes allow you to skip ahead.

7. Travel During Off-Peak Hours
Friday, Sunday and Monday are the busiest travel days. You’ll save yourself a lot of time – and a lot of stress – by traveling during off-peak hours. Check to see the best time of day to fly from a specific airport, and which terminals to avoid when you’re making connecting flights. The site also offers free phone alerts for live updates on flight delays, so you won’t have any surprises when you get to the gate.

8. Keep Your Cell Phone Ready and Charged
Stay on top of travel delays by checking your phone for alerts and alternate routes. Invest a portable charging device. It will eliminate the stress of trying to fight for an outlet to plug into at the gate.

9. Go on a Road Trip
The national average price for a gallon of gasoline is currently at $2.26. That’s 45 cents lower than last year. Don’t want to get stuck on the long TSA lines? Go on a road trip instead. Start with the maximum number of hours you’d want to devote to driving and then search for locations within that drive time from your house. Check for the best last minute car rental prices. You’ll be surprised the fun places you can go without having to blow out your budget.

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