As an experienced traveler, one of the most annoying things about airport security is a person who doesn’t bother being prepared. It’s so rude to fellow passengers and just speaks of either an “it’s all about me” attitude or inexperience. So, what do you need to do not to be that annoying person?
Today, we’re going to share plenty of tips and tricks that will help you breeze through airport security like a pro. We’ve broken our tips and tricks into step-by-step instructions for each section of the regular airport security process (the one the majority of people use) beginning with your packing. These tips and tricks will vary if you use the TSA-Pre Check, Global Entry, or one of the other faster services programs.
Preparing for airport security begins with packing
Unless you plan on not traveling with any liquids or electronics, you will have to unpack a few items from your carry-on and personal item for security. Knowing this, try to pack your bags with easy access to these articles. Make sure to pack the correct sizes and don’t pack prohibited items.
- You are limited to 3.4 ounce or 100-milliliter travel size bottles of liquids and gels. Liquids and gels include your toiletry items, deodorant, toothpaste, makeup, bug spray, food, or whatever else security considers a liquid or]
- Bag all your liquids and gels in one quart-size clear plastic zip-top bag.
- While you don’t have to, I like to bag all my prescriptions and OTC medications with appropriate labels on them in a separate clear bag.
- You cannot wear gel inserts in your shoes or your bra onto the plane, but you can pack them under the plane. The same applies to gel baby teething rings and neck pillows.
- Don’t pack or carry any weapons, such as guns, knives, or tools. Just don’t do it. If you feel the need to carry a gun or knife, put it in your luggage under the aircraft and follow the airline’s instructions for how you can carry a weapon on their planes.
- Any electronics larger than a cell phone are screened outside your bag. Here in the US that includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, and cameras. It depends in other countries. Usually, we’ve only had to show our laptop outside the US.
- Place your ID and ticket in a very convenient but safe pocket in your coat or carry-on bag for quick access.
- Check out Seat Guru’s excellent list for what you can and cannot bring through airport security. (This list is subject to change, so check the official site for updated lists).
Dressing for airport security
Yoga pants are not a must for flying but do wear fashionable less complicated clothing that you can layer for two reasons. One, it’s just more comfortable for traveling and you can add more layers if you get cold, and the second, it helps get you through airport security easier.
- Always take a shower before your flight. No one wants to smell your stink.
- Place all your jewelry, coins, and any items in your pockets in your coat pockets or your carry-on bags before going through security. You can put them back on after you’re done.
- Make sure you remove all items including paper from your pockets.
- Don’t wear a belt unless you have too. If you must, be prepared to remove it, which means wear pants that will stay up for a few minutes without the belt.
- Wear slip on shoes. And do wear socks. You don’t want to be on that airport floor barefoot and they keep your feet warm on the plane.
- Don’t wear perfume through airport security or on the plane. Just don’t. It’s torture for many of us to be locked in with you.
First Security Checkpoint
You usually pass through two checkpoints in airport security. The first requires your ID and ticket. The second is where your bags and body are checked. Because there’s a line, you can use this time to prepare yourself for both checkpoints.
- Pick the line with the most business travelers. They are travel pros and move quickly.
- While waiting in line, get your ID and ticket ready to show.
- Open your passport to your photo page. If I have a paper ticket, I like to stick it in the right page as a marker.
- Remove your hat and glasses, unless you’re wearing prescription lenses.
- Stay calm. Yes, airport security can be a bit nerve-wracking, but everything will be okay as long as you do as you’re asked and not doing anything illegal.
- Show ID and ticket, answer any questions and immediately place your documents back into your easy to access but secure location.
Second Security Checkpoint
Once again, get prepared for the second security checkpoint while you’re waiting in line. If you haven’t already, put your ticket, phone, and ID in your coat or your bag. You don’t need them with you when you go through the x-ray machine.
- Read any signs for special instructions.
- Watch those ahead of you to see what they’re doing.
- Do NOT use your cell phone for any reason in this area (the same applies when going through immigration).
- Remove any jewelry you’re wearing and place in your coat or bag.
- Remove your belt, if wearing.
- Take off any coats, hats, or scarves.
- Make sure all your pockets are empty.
- Start opening your bags to prepare for removing any electronics and liquids/gels you’re carrying.
Laying Out Your Items for Scanning
- Place all your electronics, including your laptop, tablet, e-reader, and cameras, in one of the plastic tubs, side-by-side. Do not put them on top of each other.
- Place your liquids, gels, and medications in another plastic tub. You can put other items in the tray with your liquids like your shoes or clothing.
- You don’t need to put your carry-on into a tray unless instructed otherwise.
- Pile your coat, hats, scarves, and shoes in a plastic tub.
- If traveling with a backpack, laptop bag, briefcase or purse, place in a tub.
- Double check that your pockets are empty, including papers.
- Once your stuff is moving down the scanner line, step into the x-ray line.
Going Through the X-Ray
If you have a valid reason not to go through the x-ray, such as a pacemaker, tell security and wait for a hand pat down.
- Wait patiently in the line until asked to step forward.
- For full body scanners, step into the machine and assume the position shown on the sign until told to do otherwise.
- For metal detectors, step through when instructed and then wait for security to wand you again if necessary.
- If asked to step aside for a pat down, do so politely.
- Occasionally, you’ll be asked to wait while they do an extra test, like for bomb-residue. It is scary, but just calmly go with the officers and wait while they do the test.
- Once released, it’s time to get your stuff.
Retrieving Your Stuff
If you packed your bags carefully and followed the instructions for how to separate everything for the scanner, you are now ready to grab your stuff and repack it. If there’s a backup, you might have to wait a moment until it’s come through the scanner.
- When you see your items, politely step up and start removing your items from the plastic bins.
- We recommend combining all the small items such as your electronics, liquids/gels, coats, hats, and shoes into one tub and moving to the side to repack them.
- If you can, step aside to repack everything. Don’t do it in the line, if possible. It just creates more chaos, and it’s easier to re-situate yourself out of the way.
- Repack all your stuff. Make sure you have everything before leaving the area, especially your ID, ticket, and valuables.
If Your Bags are Physically Searched
Occasionally, the security officers will want to go through your luggage physically. You don’t have a choice in this. And while it is annoying, don’t get pissy. It doesn’t help. Politely answer any questions and stay in the area the officer asks you to. Once complete, finish gathering up the rest of your stuff and follow the list for retrieving and repacking your stuff.
And that’s it! It looks and sounds like a lot, but if you followed our tips and tricks you’ll breeze through airport security like a pro. Now it’s time to look forward to enjoying your flight.
And you can now put back on any items like your jewelry, hats, coats, belts, or whatever. Do keep your ID and ticket in a safe but easy to access place because you’ll need them again to board your plane. And don’t forget you can find out more about airport security on our Handling Airport Security page.