If you have an unavoidable or last-minute business trip planned in the near future or if you’re like me and book your getaways during the slow season, you may be in for a rough time. We’re in week three of the government shutdown — and there’s no end in sight. If a deal isn’t reached by Friday, TSA workers will miss their paycheck.
Some safety inspectors are also not on the job. According to AP they are inspecting planes on a case by case basis. Yikes! You can expect significant travel delays and busier-than-usual crowds at understaffed TSA security checkpoints at various airports.
Until a deal is reached, use the following five strategies to prepare yourself.
1. Give yourself extra time to get to the airport.
Even if you’re a pro at flying and have your airport routine down pat, you should adhere to what travel officials are warning and get to the airport earlier. TSA recommends two hours for domestic flights and three for international. Due to the government shutdown, however, add more time to that, just to be safe.
2. Whip out your Clear, Global Entry, or TSA PreCheck.
Usually, Clear, Global Entry, and TSA PreCheck get you through security faster. During the shutdown, don’t expect to breeze through the security, especially if airports are more crowded and there aren’t as many TSA workers. If this shutdown is any indication of what’s to come in 2019, you may want to consider purchasing these services.
If you fly frequently out from their more than 35 airports, it may be worth it. Signing up is easy through their website. Clear uses biometric technology (fingerprints and eye scans) and has you verify your identity at their kiosks. It costs $180 per year or $15 a month.
Since Clear isn’t as widely available as TSA PreCheck in airports, the lines may be significantly shorter. But again, it’s only available in 35 airports vs PreCheck, which is available in more than 200 airports.
If you’re willing to go through the necessary steps (i.e. making an appointment for the in-person background check), it’s worth it to get one. It costs $85 for five years and they are continuing to accept applications, despite the shutdown. However, you may not be able to get an appointment right away.
It’s not uncommon to see the TSA PreCheck wait times just as long as the regular lines at airports. Don’t depend on this to get you through security faster during the shutdown.
If you travel internationally often, consider Global Entry. However, you also have to make an in-person appointment and likely won’t be able to get it right away. Appointments have been canceled due to the shutdown.
Global Entry lets you breeze through the lines when you re-enter the U.S. (at select airports) from a outside the country. There’s a one-time fee of $100 if you want to apply, but you also get TSA PreCheck with it. You may also get it free through your credit card.
3. Download the TSA App and follow them on Twitter.
If you have TSA PreCheck and an iPhone, you can download the MyTSA app, which shows you how long security will take on a 24/7 basis. It uses crowd sourced information from other travelers to show wait times at checkpoints in various airports. Download your airline’s app and set alerts to let you know if flights are delayed.
TSA also has a Twitter handle, @askTSATwitter, that answers your questions. Though they operate mainly during business hours, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them.
4. Check your airport’s website for wait times.
It might be a long shot since many airport websites aren’t very robust, but it might be helpful to do a quick search on their homepage or on Google, just in case. Their social media is also a good place to possibly find more information.
5. Be a rule follower.
Don’t wait around only to have your bag pulled aside. Even if you normally pack liquids and never take them out at security, you should make an effort to follow TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. Put all of your liquids in a 3.4-ounce containers in a clear, quart-sized bag.
Make sure to take out electronics and put your laptop in a separate bin. Always remove everything from your pockets. Throw away any beverages.
As the saying goes, expect the worst but hope for the best. Preparation will be your best friend during the shutdown.
Travel in the upcoming weeks won’t be fun, but give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and download helpful apps to keep you informed. Consider alternatives like airline alliances, just in case you are delayed or canceled. Being prepared means you’ll minimize surprises, disappointments and hopefully, maintain your sanity.