Five Ways to Fight Airport Stress During a Shutdown

My team likes to tease me about having a travel bug. They never know where I am or where I'm going from day to day... and I like to keep them on their toes.

Between my places around the country, Hampton Inns and other Hilton properties, I fly at least seven times a month.

Some folks we've talked to have reported delays at major airports in the past few weeks. That's because the government shutdown forced TSA agents to work without pay. Some called out sick from work... not because of being sick, but for things like the inability to pay for gas to drive to work.

Typically, the TSA sees a callout rate of about 2% or 3% on any given day. But in recent weeks, that number spiked to 10%. That means security line closures and longer delays in busy airports, like Houston and Atlanta.

Now, the current shutdown is over, but only for three weeks. We could easily see a return to long delays and closures come late February if the government closes again.

Personally, I haven't experienced any delays or extended wait times. And I often fly in and out of Baltimore/Washington International, which is the busiest airport in the region. But regardless of whether we see another shutdown or not, it's important to prepare.

So today, I'm sharing a few secrets for navigating airports and getting the best, fastest service possible. If you're planning on flying soon (or really anytime), these tips will save you time, money, and your sanity.

My Five Tips for Air Travel

1. If you travel frequently, upgrade your TSA status. A few years ago, I wrote about using TSA's Pre-check service. A five-year membership is just $85. With that, you get to bypass the usual security lines for shorter, faster ones. You'll need to enroll online and pass a background check, but the service allows you to wait an average of just five minutes. Even during the shutdown, this service still saves you plenty of time. As a bonus, you don't need to remove your shoes, belt, or laptop. Find out more about Pre-check here.

But there's an even better service out there. After using Pre-check for a while, I upgraded again to CLEAR. CLEAR is like cutting not just the regular security line, but the Pre-check line as well. Once you enroll, you simply walk up to a kiosk, get your iris or fingerprint scanned, and you're completely done. It allows me to blow through security in just a minute or two.

CLEAR also recently partnered with Hertz, allowing you to pick up your rental car with a simple fingerprint scan. It's available at the Atlanta airport now, but it will expand to new locations this year.

CLEAR usually runs about $179 a year, but you can try out two months for free with the code TPG2M. Click here to get started.

2. Get TSA info on your phone anytime. I haven't used this app, but a few folks on my team have it. The app MyTSA, allows you to search airports. It then displays typical wait times for security lines. But it also provides you with the locations of the TSA Pre-check lanes, allowing you to find them much faster. It's available on iPhone and Android. You can also use the app to get help from TSA if you need it.

3. Get your airline's info on your phone, too. This is a great way to get up-to-the-minute updates on your specific flight. And if you book through a third-party site, download its app, too. One of our editors uses the Expedia app to track delays, gate changes, and more for her connecting flights.

Another good time-saver: Look up the airport layout (on your airline app) so you know if you have to take a tram to another terminal or make other arrangements to allow for enough time to get to your flight.

As a reminder, if you have a tight connection, let a flight attendant know. They keep a list of passengers with connections and will try to make sure you get off the plane with enough time.

4. Keep a copy of all your documents. This tip is more of a sanity-saver. It's worth taking the time to scan your ID and write down your credit-card info (including the customer service number). If you're robbed, you'll still have all of your information. Likewise, list out your emergency contacts.

In those papers, also be sure to include a medication list. This is something we've urged you to put together before... Listing your medications – including what they look like and when to take them – will keep you safe. It'll help you stay on schedule and make sure you're taking what you need. And be sure to adjust for any time changes before you go.

If you have any allergies, particularly to medications, make sure to indicate that on your list and keep it on your person at all times. A wallet card or even an ID bracelet can be a lifesaver.

5. Always pack an empty water bottle. I hate paying $4 for a bottle of water, but what can you do when the security goons make you pitch any bottle with more than 3.4 ounces of liquid? Well, here's what I do: I put a large EMPTY bottle through the screener in my bag. Once through the checkpoint and inside the terminal, I fill it at a water fountain. Voila, I save $4 each way.

And one more thing... If you fill up after clearing security, you can take the bottles onboard with you, which saves having to wait for the attendant to make it up and down the aisle with everyone else's drinks. That's especially good if the weather's too rough for them to have beverage service.

Regardless of what happens to TSA and the shutdown, it's always good to use these tips to make traveling easier. Let me know your favorite tips as well at [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 29, 2019