Travel Tips

5 min read

Skip TSA Mayhem: Free Hack to Fast-Track Airport Lines

Imagine breezing past those snaking TSA lines, your boarding pass in hand, a smug smile on your face—all without spending a dime. Welcome to the travel hack of your dreams.

Tobi Miles
June 13, 2023

Wait times at the airport have increased in the past two years due to the travel boom and widespread understaffing. These wait times are due to the bottleneck at TSA as security personnel often struggle to keep up with the crowds on peak travel days. Savvy travelers have used programs like TSA PreCheck and Clear Plus to expedite their experience for years.

The Clear service has helped countless travelers avoid long lines, but it’s the new free program that recently shook up the travel experience. Reserve is Clear’s newest program that lets you check in online a few days before you travel and register to cut TSA lines this summer.

While the program is only available at 19 airports, its fast rate of growth suggests that Reserve powered by Clear will be more widely available soon. The new Reserve program first appeared at two U.S. airports in 2021, and six more airports in the country have since adopted it. Canada has five participating airports in major cities and provinces, such as Montreal.

While you must pay for premium services like TSA PreCheck and Clear Plus, Reserve is free, but the spots are limited. You have a window of four days to two weeks before your flight to reserve your spot online. Travelers can pick time slots that are separated by 15 minutes, and they typically allow up to 10 people per slot.

However, this program isn’t available all day and is restricted to specific hours that vary between airports. Reserve powered by Clear is typically only available for 12 hours and ends for the day at 5:00 PM- 6:00 PM at most airports. Once you book your spot online, you simply present a QR code in the Reserve line to skip to the front of the TSA line.

You must still go through all of the TSA’s security check protocols when you use Reserve. They will still have you take your shoes off, put your bags and electronics on the conveyor belt, and walk through the scanner. However, this will save you anywhere from 10-45 minutes or longer depending on the season and time of your flight.

This new program’s expansion couldn’t have come at a better time ass over 2,000,000 people pass through TSA every day. The TSA has to screen many more people per day this summer than they have in the past two years, so it stands to reason that they will expand it further. Some of the biggest and best airports in the U.S. currently support the new Reserve program, such as:

  • Orlando International Airport
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  • Minneapolis International Airport
  • Newark Liberty International Airport
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport

Not every terminal at all U.S. airports has Reserve lanes, however. For example, you can only find a Reserve lane at John F. Kennedy International Airport at Terminal 4. European airports like Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport, Berlin Airport, and Frankfurt Airport also have the Reserve program.

The benefits of Reserve are quite similar to Clear Plus. Clear Plus costs $189 per year and lets travelers jump to the front of the line for a quick physical screening. This experience is often faster than Reserve, but the two programs are close enough that the differences are minimal. However, Clear Plus is more widely available and there are currently lanes at over 50 airports.

Reserve is simpler than Clear Plus in that there is no biometric scanning process. This process is replaced by online registration and will get you to your gate just as quickly in many cases. Make sure to check to see if Reserve is available before you book your next flight as more and more airports are implementing special lanes.

It’s only a matter of time before the Reserve program becomes the standard at most major airports in North America, and eventually the rest of the world. Until your local airport adopts the Reserve program, you will have to pay for similar services like TSA PreCheck and Clear Plus. We are in the middle of a major summer travel boom, so it’s worthwhile to do anything you can to jump to the head of the TSA line.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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