How to get priority line access on flights
(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Lines, lines, everywhere. Lines to check in, lines to drop bags, lines to get through security, lines at the gate, lines at customer service when everything goes haywire, lines at customs – you name it, airports have got you queuing up for it.
Who's for skipping? We sure are – and we'll show you how it's done, step by step. Let's take a look at the concept of priority access, one of the easiest line hacks out there.
What is it?
Priority access can mean many things. But ideally, what you're looking for is the opportunity not only to jump ahead in the security checkpoint lines – as you would if you were an airline elite, or a first-class passenger – but also get on your plane first. Maybe there are other perks, such as priority baggage handling.
Who is lucky enough to get this?
Who gets priority all depends on which airline we are talking about. Some major carriers, such as American, reserve the very best of everything for their elite customers; the only way to buy in is to book a very expensive plane ticket.
However, even American will sell you an opportunity to move your boarding position up as far as possible, without getting in the way of those who earned their spot with years of travel (or, again, those who paid thousands of dollars in plane fare).
Not every airline is so protective of their most loyal customers. United, for example, packages up the nice treatment its elites receive – the dedicated airport check-in counters, special security lanes and priority boarding – and sells it off to anyone who can cough up as little as $9 per segment for the privilege. That's right – even if you booked one of those nonrefundable tickets in the very last. For $9, you're suddenly a VIP. US Airways offers the same thing for just $10.
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Don't get too excited
United and US Airways are outliers in this category – most airlines tend to take a different view on the matter of priority access and priority boarding. What you get – if anything at all – depends on whom you're flying with. JetBlue sells a line-jumping product, called Even More Speed, but that's just for the security line (and, on a busy day at JFK's Terminal 5, well worth it, if only to take some of the stress out of your trip.)
See our airline-by-airline priority-access chart.
Virgin America, on the other hand, bundles the security speed-through with Group A boarding privileges and a seat toward the front of the line, allowing them to charge $30 as opposed to JetBlue's $10. Their product goes by the name Main Cabin Express. Still other airlines – Alaska is one notable example – offers nothing to its non-elites.