Why You Should Think Twice Before Picking The Shortest Line At Airport Security

Everyone's least favorite part of the airport experience is the dreaded security lineup and everything that comes with it — getting yelled at by the TSA staff, hurriedly taking off your shoes, quadruple-checking where your passport is, and a line that seems never-ending. The instinct to choose the shortest line at airport security is almost reflexive for many travelers. However, this decision might not always be in your best interest.

The length of the line is not always an accurate indicator of how fast it moves. Several factors affect its speed, including the efficiency of the staff, the complexity of the security procedures at that checkpoint, and the preparedness of the travelers in line. A shorter line might move slower if it's handled by less-experienced staff or if it's dealing with a string of travelers who are unprepared for the security check. "A short line may not be the best path," advises ex-flight attendant and author Heather Poole (via The Sun). 

Instead, passengers must scan the security queue strategically and pick the right one, which may not necessarily be the shortest. Avoid lines with big groups, families, strollers, people wearing laced-up shoes, or anyone distracted who consistently stalls the flow. On the other hand, "a long line of frequent fliers (look for solo passengers holding laptops) will move faster than a line with a family with a baby," explains Poole. Line up behind couples, business travelers, or veteran-traveler-type folks with one carry-on item who know the airport security drill and are prepared for it.

From strategic lines to dedicated programs

Another pro lineup tip: turn left. Why? 85% to 90% of people in Western countries are right-handed, and when lining up for security, most tend to pick lines on the right side, following their dominant hand. The lines on the left are generally less busy. So with this in mind, pick left-sided lines with savvy travelers for a breezy move through airport security. Moreover, airports sometimes have "backup" security lines, away from the main lines, to take care of spill-over passengers and speed up the existing queues. Looking for these lines is one of the simplest and wisest ways to help you get through airport security faster.

If you want to avoid the basic security lineups altogether, which tend to be long (or longer), consider investing in a pass that would allow you to enter a dedicated queue. If you're traveling domestically within the United States, the TSA PreCheck membership grants a separate airport security screening lane for TSA-approved passengers — 99% of whom wait 10 minutes or less. Screenings with TSA PreCheck mean you won't have to remove anything, from carry-on liquids to shoes. The service is available in 200 U.S. airports with over 90 participating airlines and costs $85 for a five-year membership. So, the next time you go through airport security — think twice before picking the short line. When in doubt, turn left. Or, pay up for that short and sweet VIP line.