Expert Tips for Navigating Airport Security

Most commonly confiscated items at airports security checkpoints

Last week, we looked at the US airports that have the longest and shortest waiting times to clear passport control when you get home from an international trip. This week, we’ll tackle another one of the dreaded airport lines and checkpoints – airport security. Read on to learn the best ways to speed your way through security and get to your gate quickly!

Business travelers are the undisputed masters of dealing with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security at US airports, so we’ve talked to these road warriors to find out their top tips for getting through the security screening. These tips are based on the security protocols used in the US, but if you know how to deal with security at US airports, you’ll be in good shape to handle security at airports all over the world.

Tip 1: Have Your Papers Ready

The first part of airport security is to show your identification and boarding pass to a TSA officer. Have your documents ready in your hand before you get to the front of the line – the people behind you will thank you! If you are boarding an international flight, have your passport flipped open to the photo page. If you’re flying domestically, you can show a driver’s license or passport card instead. Make sure you’ve pulled the right card out of your wallet, though! One business traveler we spoke to sheepishly admitted that she once handed the TSA agent her health insurance card when trying to board an early morning flight. Oops!

Many airports now allow you to show your boarding pass on your phone instead of having a paper copy, but we recommend that you print a paper copy of your boarding pass as a backup. After all, if the phone scanner isn’t working, or your cell phone battery dies, you’ll have to go find a boarding pass kiosk to print your pass and then stand in the security line again!

Traveling with your children? You’ll get through security much faster if your kids have ID, too. We recommend passport cards for children for exactly this reason. Of course, if you’re traveling out of the country, your children will need to have valid passport books.

Tip 2: (Un)Dress for Success

Wear slip-on shoes rather than shoes with laces for faster airport security screeningPart of the airport security ritual is to remove your jacket, belt, and shoes. You can speed up this process by choosing to wear slip-on shoes rather than shoes with laces or buckles. Flip flops might seem like a good choice because you can kick them off quickly, but please don’t. It’s much more hygienic to wear socks to protect your feet as you pass through security. You can also save yourself the step of taking off your belt by just not wearing one! Keep jewelry to a minimum, as well. A large pendant necklace or other bulky accessory can show up as a potential threat in the millimeter wave machine, and can earn you a pat-down by a security officer. You can always pack your jewelry, belt, hair clips, or other accessories in your carry-on bag and put them on after you have gotten to your gate.

Tip 3: Know Who Doesn’t Need to Take Off Their Shoes

Think that everyone needs to strip down to their stocking feet? Think again. The Transportation Security Administration allows certain travelers to keep on their shoes and light jackets. If you are a senior over age 75, or a child under age 12, you’re exempted from taking off your shoes and jacket. You should still remove your belt, large jewelry, and other metal items that might set off a metal detector.

Members of TSA PreCheck or other Trusted Traveler programs can also skip taking off their shoes by going through a dedicated TSA PreCheck security lane. You’ll need to enter your Known Traveler Number when booking your flight, so that your boarding pass will print out marked with the TSA PreCheck logo.

Tip 4: Make Sure You Aren’t Carrying Any Prohibited Items

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to check their bags for forbidden items before they head to the airport. In 2015, TSA confiscated nearly 2,500 guns at US airports, almost all of them from people who forgot they were carrying them or who simply didn’t understand that their gun carry permits don’t extend to carrying weapons on a plane!

Now, you probably weren’t going to accidentally leave a handgun in your laptop bag, but there are a lot of common items you should either leave at home or pack into your checked baggage if you don’t want to lose them at the security checkpoint.

Some of the most commonly confiscated items are:

  • Scissors (small scissors with blades under 4” long are allowed)
  • Pocket knives
  • Toiletries in containers larger than 3.4 ounces, even if there’s less than 3 ounces of product left in the container
  • Bottles of water, sodas, and cups of coffees

Wondering if your carry on bag will pass muster? Check out the TSA’s definitive list of items prohibited in carry on luggage.

Don’t forget to empty your pockets, too. You’re allowed to carry your car keys and cigarette lighter on the plane, but you can’t go through the scanners with them in your pockets. Place these small items into the plastic bins provided. Same thing goes for your sunglasses – they need to be in the plastic bin, not on your head!

Tip 5: Don’t Leave Anything Behind

When you’ve passed through the security scanner and your carry on bag has come out on the other end of the conveyor belt, you’re probably ready to grab your shoes and your suitcase and bolt. But before you leave the security area, take a moment to make sure you have all your belongings. Far too many people walk off without their cell phone, wallet, keys, or other small items! This is particularly likely to happen if you’ve put something into one of the small bowls rather than in a larger bin. Keep your belongings together before they go through the security screening, and it will be easier to collect them all at the end.

What are your tricks for getting through airport security quickly? Tell us in the comments!




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