Spring break travel is here: These 6 tips will help you survive it

17 March 2023

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

There are a few sure signs that spring is on the way, and none of them have anything to do with a groundhog seeing his shadow.

Target’s clothing department swaps winter coats and snow boots for swimwear and sandals; daylight saving time buys us a few more evening daylight hours (and thoroughly confuses all of us in the process); and airports are filled to the gills with spring break travelers.

This year, spring break travel is expected to be even busier than it was in 2022. Searches for flights in March and April are already up 40% compared to the same time frame last year, according to spring break travel data compiled by online travel booking platform Expedia and the Transportation Security Administration.

Predicted top five busiest days:

1. Saturday, March 25: 172,929.
2. Saturday, March 18: 172,833.
3. Saturday, April 1: 172,449.
4. Saturday, March 11: 171,959.
5. Saturday, April 8: 169,398.

Details: https://t.co/nyQn0bd1DF pic.twitter.com/GQmW2ajUsm

— Orlando International Airport (@MCO) March 3, 2023

 

Airports are already seeing this increase play out in their bustling terminals. Orlando International Airport (MCO) expects approximately 7.3 million passengers between March 4 and April 18 — nearly 1 million more passengers than the same period in 2022, according to a press release.

Related: These are the 15 best spring break destinations to visit this year

LAX is expecting the busiest spring break travel period since 2019 with an estimated 12 million passengers using the airport throughout March and April. Read more: https://t.co/R0Xia2WK61 pic.twitter.com/r09uPsQz8d

— LAX Airport (@flyLAXairport) March 2, 2023

It’s not surprising that the theme park capital of the world would be a popular spring break destination. However, Orlando isn’t the only destination seeing higher passenger numbers.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) projects 12 million travelers in March and April, making it the busiest spring break for the airport since 2019.

These increased numbers mean bigger crowds, long lines and the potential for more issues to arise at the airport. Here are six tips to help you get through the airport smoothly and start your spring break travels on a relaxing note.

Choose the right flights

PAUL HENNESSY/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHT ROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

Early in the morning, between 6 and 7, is an ideal time to fly because that’s when the airport is less likely to be crowded.

This is in part due to less air traffic and generally calmer weather conditions at the start of the day, so there are typically fewer delays that occur, resulting in fewer passengers waiting around for their flights.

Related: The best spring break destination for families for an easy vacation

Minimize the time you’ll spend in lines and searching for a seat at your gate by avoiding flying during peak travel times, such as Friday and Sunday afternoons when business travelers head home from their work weeks and leisure travelers leave for weekend trips.

Skip flights scheduled for midafternoon or later to decrease your odds of being hit with substantial flight delays or cancellations, which become more common as the day progresses, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.

Travel with only a carry-on bag

ALEXANDER HASSENSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES

Avoid airport chokepoints at the check-in counter and baggage claim by not checking a bag.

If there are any hiccups with your flight and you end up on a different flight than you originally planned, you won’t have to be worried about being separated from your baggage, either.

As a charter member of team carry-on myself, I can travel for up to a week with my Everki backpack and soft-sided Away The Bigger Carry-On.

Related: Keep calm and carry on: TPG shares its favorite travel carry-on bags

Make sure the bags you plan to bring on board fall within the carry-on luggage dimensions noted by your airline. For most U.S. airlines, this means your main carry-on bag must be no more than 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches (or 45 linear inches).

Have airline elite status

A traveler enters the Southwest Airlines Fly By Priority line to check in at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana, California. PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. airlines offer expedited security to their frequent flyers at many of the country’s busiest airports.

For example, Southwest Airlines’ A-List and A-List Preferred members and passengers traveling on Business Select and Anytime fares can use express security checkpoint lines. Other carriers offering access to expedited security lanes for select passengers include:

Alaska Airlines: MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold 100K members.
American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.
Delta Air Lines: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members.
JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic, Mint and Blue Extra customers.
Spirit Airlines: Free Spirit Silver and Free Spirit Gold members.
United Airlines: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members.

Related: Current airline elite status match and challenge options you should know about

Airline elite status also gets you on the plane at the top of the boarding group, which will better guarantee that precious overhead bin space will be available for your carry-on bags.

If you don’t have status but buy a first- or business-class seat, know that it comes with expedited check-in, priority security (where available) and priority boarding.

Sign up for an expedited screening program

Passengers using a Clear kiosk at Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) in West Palm Beach, Florida. LINDSEY NICHOLSON/UCG/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck gives travelers access to a separate expedited security line at more than 200 U.S. airports.

Enroll for a $78 fee in this expedited security program, which 80-plus domestic and international airlines participate in, to enjoy moving through designated security lanes where taking off items like shoes, belts and light jackets and removing laptops from carry-on bags is not required.

Your membership expires after five years, at which time you can renew for $70.

Related: Clear expedited airport security program — is it worth it?

Global Entry

This program expedites reentry into the U.S. for preapproved, low-risk travelers returning from international destinations.

It’s currently available at nearly 60 airports. Global Entry is most appropriate for frequent international travelers and includes a TSA PreCheck membership. The current cost is $100, and membership is valid for five years.

Clear

You can also pay $189 (or a special reduced rate if you have elite status with Delta or United) for a Clear membership.

This program uses biometric authentication (either a fingerprint or an eye scan) to confirm your identity, eliminating the need to wait for a TSA agent to inspect your ID. After verifying your identity, a Clear representative escorts you to the front of the security screening line.

Related: Luxury on a budget: 5 spring break hotels you can book with points

If you’re enrolled in both Clear and TSA PreCheck, you’ll be taken directly to the front of the TSA PreCheck line, saving you even more time in the security screening area.

Before signing up for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Clear, see if any of the credit cards in your wallet will reimburse you for one (or more) of the programs.

Several cards offer up to $100 for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck membership), while The Platinum Card® from American Express provides an annual credit of $189 to cover a Clear membership.

Additionally, the American Express® Green Card comes with a yearly statement credit of up to $189 to apply toward the cost of a Clear membership.

The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Check TSA wait times

The MyTSA app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, provides estimated wait times at each airport’s security lanes so you can plan ahead and time your arrival accordingly.

The app also offers helpful tips for preparing for security, including a searchable database of what you can and cannot bring in your carry-on bag.

If you aren’t sure if you can bring something in your checked or carry-on bag, you can also text the TSA and ask.

TSA

Many of the country’s main airports allow you to check security wait times directly on the front pages of their websites, too.

You’ll even find that some airports, such as Orlando International Airport (MCO) and San Antonio International Airport (SAT), have monitors by TSA checkpoints that display regularly updated wait times.

A screen shows the wait times for security and customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York. JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Related: 3 simple things to do before going through TSA screening

Dress for airport success

Passengers proceed through the TSA checkpoint at Denver International Airport (DEN). ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Carefully plan your airport wardrobe to shave off time going through security.

Wear travel shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. Additionally, bring a jacket with pockets or a personal item that you can use to quickly stow important items like your phone, wallet and passport once you’ve gone through the X-ray machine and are retrieving your carry-on items.

If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, be proactive by removing your laptop or tablet, 3-1-1 liquids bag, jacket and shoes before you get to the conveyor belt.

Make sure your belt and metal jewelry are off and that there are no coins in your pockets, as these can set off the alarm and waste precious minutes.

Bottom line

Spring break is one of those peak travel times that can try the patience of even the most experienced road warriors.

Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to reduce your time in long lines.

Follow these tips, and you’ll become a pro at navigating the scrum with ease and avoiding any unnecessary delays.

Additional reporting by Tarah Chieffi.

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