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Survival guide for those long Atlanta airport lines

No one enjoys standing in line. OK, maybe someone does, but we haven’t met that troubled soul yet. Standing in line is even less fun if you’re worried about missing your flight and/or a bored child is asking again how much longer?

Sometimes it’s not so bad, but like that scary dog that knows your scared  of it, TSA seems to know when you’re in a hurry and will respond the wrong way. Or maybe it just feels like that. So, we’ve established that security checks are no fun.

You’re not going to like it. But if you follow our Security Line Survival Guide, chances are you’ll get through it without losing your sanity like that oversized bottle of shampoo you “forgot” was in your carryon bag.

Avoiding the longest long lines

Sign up for PreCheck: Everyone has to stand in lines, even pre-cleared bigwigs. But at least those lines are shorter and move faster. If you can swing it, consider signing up for this expedited security screening program from the TSA. You can apply at the enrollment center on Concourse A or online at tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/apply. You’ll need to provide certain documentation and be fingerprinted (you can schedule an appointment to do that in person during the online application process). Cost is $85, and if approved, it’s valid for five years. 

Monitor the lines before heading for the airport: Security line estimated wait times are updated regularly on the Hartsfield-Jackson website. It’s not a bad idea to start studying these days before you fly (or even before you book a flight) so you know what you’re likely to experience and when. You can also register for trak-a-line, which emails you whenever there are changes to the wait times in the period leading up to your flight.

Fly on off-peak days: Fewer people fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays than any other day, so lines will likely be shorter.

  • Go left: Reseach suggests that since more people are right-handed (and since many of the things we deal with in daily life are set up to be done right-handed), we automatically tend to go right when presented with a choice. If the choice is between security lines and checkpoints to the right or left, choose the latter.
  • If you’re traveling with small children: Don’t check yourself in. Instead, head to the check-in counters where a sympathetic agent may send you right to the faster pre-check security line. 

Related video: Why it can sometimes take three hours to get through Atlanta’s airport

Dressing and packing

     
  • Leave the stilettos, take the slip-ons: It’s no longer just about what’s easy to get on and off when you finally do reach the blessed screening point; now it’s also about what’s most comfortable to stand in for an hour or more. Consider wearing flat shoes, sneakers, even bedroom slippers if it makes you happy.
  • Wear layers, even in summer: Stand in line long enough and chances are you’ll be both hot and cold at various points. That sweater layered over a tank top or T-shirt will keep you warm when the line hasn’t budged for 15 minutes and the airport air conditioning is going full blast. But when the combined body heat of 32,000 people packed close together in line gets to be too much, you can remove it (tip: Make it a cotton sweater that won’t take up much room in your carryon).

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  • Downsize your usual carryon and check it: Yes, those checked baggage fees are major annoying. But not half as annoying as buckling under the weight of an oversized, overstuffed “carryon” slung over one shoulder and a laptop case or enormous purse over the other one. Desperate times call for desperate measures: If you’re going to be standing for an hour or more, consider checking that week’s worth of clothing, toiletries and Pork Rinds you normally carry on and only tote along the essentials for getting through the security wait and the flight.
  • For older travelers or anyone unable to stand for long periods: This is not the time to be unduly brave. Contact your airline directly before your trip and ask about getting wheelchair assistance.
  • If you’re traveling with small children: Consider bringing along a light-weight, fold-up stroller they can sit in it at least intermittently. It may lessen the squirm factor and reduce the chances your child will dart off in line (if you’re really lucky, they may fall asleep). Fold it up when you reach the gate, and the agents there may check it for free. 

Eating, Drinking and Being Entertained

     
  • Bring snacks: Something about being trapped indefinitely between the restaurant-rich main terminal and concourses is downright panic inducing: Where is my next meal coming from?! Who needs the extra angst? Plus, you might legitimately get hungry during the long wait to get through security and have no time to buy something afterwards and make your flight. So bring along some favorite snacks that can go in and out of your carryon, but try to avoid salty things (see below).
  • Avoid excess liquids: This part should be obvious, but we’ll spell it out anyway: Once you’re in that security line, you don’t want to have to leave it for any reason. That Starbucks Venti Mocchochino or the bottled water the size of your head seemed like a great idea when you were getting in line half an hour ago. But now you’re still nowhere near the checkpoint and you’re going to have to get out of the line, find a bathroom and start the whole process all over again. Afraid of drymouth? Pack a roll of Lifesavers.
  • Better yet, bring along a watermelon: OK, not a whole one (although sharing slices might help you make friends in line). Still, watermelon, celery, cucumbers and strawberries all are excellent sources of hydration and delicious ways to ward off hunger. Bring slices along in baggies.

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  • Bring something to read or watch while you wait: This is the perfect chance to start reading a novel. Or writing one. Other ideas for staying entertained during a long wait include downloading “Lemonade” or Season 1 of “The Walking Dead” beforehand so you can finally find out what everyone else is talking about. You can also catch up on some work, but in any case, be considerate of your fellow Walking Dead in the line. Use headphones and don’t keep making long, noisy phone calls to Dave in Accounting.
  • Fully charge all your devices before heading for the airport. Bring along an extra charger in case you need to juice things back up after getting through security.
  • For those traveling with children: Talk to them several days before your trip about the possibility of a long line and help them put together their very own “entertainment bag”: Put in books, crayons, animal crackers and other things to keep the whining to a minimum and give them a goal: Once they reach that elusive security checkpoint, they can send the bag through the scanner themselves. 

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