Here are some strategies I employ as a frequent traveler to keep time at the check-in counters and TSA lines, not to mention the stress levels, at the bare minimum.
1. Consider TSA Pre-Check.
If you are going to be flying a few times a year, it would be worthwhile to enroll in TSA Pre-Check. The program works like this: pay an $85 application fee, fill out a standard form, and get fingerprinted. TSA will run some checks and make a determination a few weeks later if you are eligible to be considered a "pre-screened" passenger.
If approved, TSA Pre-Check is valid for five years and it entitles passengers a separate line at airport security. And since TSA Pre-Check fliers do not have to remove their shoes, liquids, or laptops, these lines are also faster and shorter.
2. Go online to reduce time in line.
Most airlines nowadays offer online check in. Take advantage of it! It is very common to see travelers forget or ignore online check in reminders, but this is one of those easy things to do that would save you from waiting in line, especially at busy airports. If you check in online, complete the process and make sure you either print your boarding pass or your send it to your phone (when available).
3. Travel with technology.
Using an airline's app could save you time by checking in conveniently on your phone, getting your boarding pass, checking the status of your flight, or getting gate information. There are also some handy apps out there such as TripIt, which will help you organize your travel itinerary, including your flight, all in one place.
4. It is not worth the weight.
One of the biggest hassles I've lived through as a traveler is showing up at the airport with bags that are a few pounds too heavy. Imagine the embarrassment and anxiety of having to shuffle stuff around between bags until the scale agrees with you. Space on the aircraft is valuable and some airlines can really be strict about baggage weight, so make sure that either you're confident that your bags meet the weight thresholds or that you pack light.
5. Know what's in the bag.
They haven't allowed liquids on the plane for many years now so do not act surprised or throw a tantrum that airport security makes you throw out your beverage or your new bottle of perfume. For people like us who might use our outdoor backpacks as a carry-on, make sure you don't inadvertently leave camping gear such as a multi-purpose knife. Those will get detected on the x-ray and will trigger security rummaging through your bag and confiscation.
6. Pack with unpacking in mind.
Think about the items that would need to come out of your bag at security, such as IDs, passports, and toiletries. These items don't go at the very bottom of your backpack or deep inside your suitcase. Those go at the top where you can easily reach in and find them. Unless you want dirty looks from the TSA Agent or the passenger behind you, of course.
7. Laptop out.
One of the biggest confusions I witness at the security line is whether laptops need to come out or not. Laptops need to come out of your bag and out of the sleeve you put them in, as do tablets. They also need to be in a bin of their own. Because of this, it is recommended that you pack your laptop and/or tablet where you can easily access them, preferably not inside your zipped rolling carry-on if you want to avoid glares and grunts from the people behind you in line.
8. There is no dress code, but...
Don't wear jewelry and belts if you can help it. Travel in footwear that will be easy to slip on and off. In the summer, wear sandals that don't have too many complicated straps and buckles. In the winter, try to avoid lace-ups that go all the way to your knees.
Do you have any more tips to help breeze through airport lines? Share them in the comments!