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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Security lines: How to speed through

In advance of the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Transportation Security Administration said that it was taking measures to speed travelers through airport security and customs and immigration checkpoints.

By Shannon Sims

More travelers may mean longer lines at airport security and customs and immigration checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration expected to screen 2.6 million passengers May 26, which it predicted to be the busiest travel day of the Memorial Day weekend. That’s more than 2019, when 2.4 million travelers were screened.

In advance of the holiday, the agency said it was taking measures to speed travelers through. Teenagers under 18 can now accompany parents or guardians who are enrolled in TSA PreCheck through security when traveling on the same reservation; children 12 and under had previously been able to accompany their parents.

And the agency said its staffing levels are up because all its employees are getting a raise July 1. The promise of higher wages had made recruiting efforts easier.

The agency says technology will also speed things up.

Now, at 16 U.S. airports, passengers no longer need to show their boarding passes to go through security, although they may need to show them at the gate. At these airports, travelers can swipe their identifying documents — a driver’s license or a passport, for example — in front of the security officer, and facial recognition technology will check for a match. Then an officer will check the ID before sending the passenger through.

New scanners that expedite security by allowing liquids and laptops to stay inside the bags are on the way as well, but “it’s going to be years before this becomes a reality,” TSA press secretary R. Carter Langston said.

To speed your way, it can help to sign up for one of the programs offered by the government or Clear, a private company. But time is running out.

TSA’s PreCheck program permits travelers departing from U.S. airports to go through screening without removing their shoes, belts or laptops, which can speed the process so significantly that in April, the TSA said, 89% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in line. Many credit cards reimburse for PreCheck enrollment, which normally costs $78. Once approved, PreCheck lasts for five years. Although approval can be quick, it could take up to 60 days.

For $22 more, passengers can apply for Global Entry, which includes PreCheck, is also valid for five years and expedites U.S. entry from international destinations. Many credit cards also reimburse for Global Entry. The big drawback is that approval requires an interview, and the current average wait time is four to six months, Rhonda Lawson, a Customs and Border Protection public affairs specialist, said in an email. According to that agency, the number of travelers arriving at U.S. airports is almost 30% higher than last year.

If you can’t wait for PreCheck or Global Entry approval, the privately run Clear Plus offers a five-minute application and approval process. Members have their identities verified by Clear representatives and then are escorted to the front of security lines. Because users still undergo the airport’s physical screening, Clear offers maximum efficiency when used in tandem with PreCheck. Of course, the VIP treatment comes at a cost: Clear runs $189 each year. But family members can be added for $60 each, and some credit cards and airlines offer discounts.

If you don’t want to pay for these programs or don’t have the time to wait for approval, you’ve still got some digital resources at your disposal for predicting airport lines.

TSA has its own app, MyTSA, that shows security wait times. Some commercial apps, like MiFlight and App in the Air, offer crowdsourced information on the current wait times at various airports.

If you’re reentering the United States from abroad, the Global Entry passport-scanning kiosks now are paperless — no more receipts. Instead, your face will be scanned and then double-checked by a Customs and Border Protection officer.

You’ll go through a similar process even without Global Entry. In the majority of U.S. airports, the passport-scanning kiosks are gone and instead a facial biometrics system is being used, Lawson said, adding that travelers can opt out and go through the traditional process by notifying a Customs officer.

To get a sense of how long it might take to get through, consult the Customs and Border Protection airport wait time website, which tracks the average and maximum wait times in immigration lines for both U.S. citizens and noncitizens. Although it doesn’t have real-time data, by checking the previous week’s waits on the same day and at the same time as your arrival, you can get a good sense of what kind of a line you could be facing.

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