Getting an accurate read on security line wait times at U.S. airports is no easy feat as travelers have likely discovered this week while facing hours-long lines at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
The best bet? Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare, fly at off-peak times and enroll in TSA PreCheck.
For $85 (for five years), approved PreCheck members go through specially designated lines where they are allowed to skip removing their shoes, belts and light jackets and taking laptops and liquids out of bags.
The application process involves a visit to an enrollment center to get fingerprinted and provide documentation and payment.
Enrolling in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program for international travel provides TSA PreCheck eligibility in addition to easing entry into the United States.
A TSA app, called My TSA, provides information about checkpoint wait times to all travelers, yet there are no guarantees that the information is accurate.
A disclaimer reads, “The TSA makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of My TSA and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents.”
The app’s wait time information comes from passengers and is not verified by the TSA.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — the busiest passenger airport in the world — offers security checkpoint wait time estimates via an alerting service called Trak-a-Line.
Passengers enter their email addresses and approximate departure times for updates.
Other airports and independent websites offer similar estimates online but are careful to add disclaimers.
Denver International Airport cautions on its website that estimates are “not intended to be a substitute for proper preparation and timely arrival.”
Avoiding flights at peak times slices into the time spent creeping along behind a long line of fellow fliers.
Like highways, airports tend to get especially busy on weekdays in the early morning and later in the afternoon and early evening.
“Usually Tuesday and Wednesday are the slowest days, and midday is the slowest time any day of the week,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.
“There are spot times and certain airports known for mad rushes, however — Saturdays in Miami when all the cruise ships dock at the same time, so midday at MIA on a Saturday would be an exception,” Hobica says.
Arrive at least two hours early for domestic flights and at least three hours before international departures.