Hate lines at the airport? Pay to make them go away
Shorten the wait with these 4 fixes
Long lines are the bane of the airline passenger’s existence, especially during peak holiday travel. Here are some of the ways you can shorten the wait, or even eliminate waiting altogether.
You’ve probably already heard of TSA Precheck and Global Entry, but if not, let me explain. Precheck ($85 for five years) sends passengers into shorter and quicker TSA lines, allowing you to keep your shoes on and your laptop and sizecompliant liquids and gels inside your carry-on. I prefer Global Entry ($100 for five years) because it includes Precheck and also ensures a quick, line-free re-entry into the U.S. through immigration and customs (sometimes the customs inspection lines are worse than immigration).
If you travel to the United Kingdom at least twice a year, own an eligible passport and are willing to pay the 70 pound (about $90) annual fee, look into the Registered Traveller service, which allows automated processing through immigration at most U.K. airports and at Eurostar terminals. Airlines offer line-beating perks that you can buy when you book your airfare. JetBlue, for example, will let you use the same TSA security line that its first-class customers enjoy for $10; for $15, Delta will let you board the plane along with its preferred frequent fliers, giving you early access to the overhead bins; and for the same price, United will let you use the priority checkin line or board the plane earlier than your fare would otherwise warrant.
Higher up the pecking order, United Airlines offers Signature Service with VIP treatment at 11 airports; prices start at $250 per passenger. American offers its 5-Star Service, also at $250 per passenger in the U.S. and $300 overseas. Both programs include priority security lines and immigration processing, but American’s is only for business and first-class passengers.
When I flew first class on Air France not long ago, an agent met me at checkin, escorted me to the head of the TSA line, then to the lounge, then to the gate and all the way to my seat. On landing, I was met at the plane’s door, brought down to the tarmac and handed over to a driver who sped me to the terminal.
Not in first class? Air France offers a meet-andgreet service to any customer at four French airports with prices starting at 120 euros ($135) for the first passenger and 10 to 20 euros ($11.25-$13.50) for additional passengers.
Most of these programs don’t help with security or immigration at airports outside the U.S., such as London’s Heathrow, where I have spent many an hour zigzagging back and forth between crowd-control stanchions, in jet-lagged stupor, even with “fast lane” access.
So that’s where VIP airport concierges come in. For a fee, these enterprises promise to meet you at the curb or at the airplane’s door, “expedite” you through security and passport control, and when airport policy allows, even usher you to the front of the lines.
Frankfurt Airport offers a VIP experience for any connecting passenger starting at 119 euros ($134). It includes gate-to-gate transfer by electric cart or, in some cases, via a luxury car on the airport’s tarmac.
One of the largest firms, London-based Global Airport Concierge (global airportconciergeservice .com), works in over 700 airports worldwide, with prices starting at $150 per service. In 100 of those airports the company offers a VVIP service whereby passengers wait in a private lounge or private terminal while security and other formalities are processed far from the maddening crowds and the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Prices vary depending on airport (at LAX and Heathrow, the fee is over $4,000, but those two are anomalies and the service at most airports costs much less).
Then there’s Blacklane Pass (pass.blacklane.com), a product from Berlinbased Blacklane, which works with nearly 300 airport concierge firms, including Global Airport Concierge. Known mostly for its private chauffeur services, Blacklane has re-imagined the VIP airport concierge business by charging a flat $100 per service in over 500 airports.
Dealing directly with a local or smaller provider, such as Marhaba
The good news is that one day your face will be your passport and your boarding pass. Long lines will be a thing of the past. Airlines are working with airports and government agencies to introduce biometric passenger identification: Look into a camera, then walk through the gate and onto the plane. I saw this in action at a British Airways gate in Los Angeles and witnessed a jumbo jet loaded in a matter of minutes. Eventually, your mug will take you from airport check-in to boarding and through security and on to passport control, without a piece of paper in sight.