Speed Through Security in the Airport

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Airport Security Playmobil

Many people are stressed by the air travel experience these days and particularly by airport security, but a little preparation before your trip can make the whole process go more smoothly.

Before Your Trip

  • Decide if you are using carry-on luggage or checking your luggage. For most airlines is it cheaper to do carry-on luggage. I highly recommend this option because it also means you don’t have to stand in line to check your luggage and you don’t have to stand around waiting for your luggage to come out at the other side. That combination can easily save you an hour. On a very busy travel day the wait to check your luggage can be even greater. It does mean you will have to take your suitcase through security and it means you have to pack less. But packing lighter can save you bell hop tips and a sore back later on.
  • Luggage – I am a big fan of the soft sided roller bag for getting through airports easier. If you plan to carry-on make sure your bag is smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
  • No matter which bag you choose, mark your bag in some fashion. I used to have a red polka dot piece of fabric tied to the handle of my bag. This is especially important with black roller bags which are very common.
  • If you have kids you will be traveling with tell them how security will work and role play going through security a few times. Putting their stuffed animal through a big scary X-ray machine is not the best way to start a trip, especially if it takes them by surprise.
  • If you are going to use carry-on luggage make sure you have a one liter plastic bag for your liquids and liquid containers of no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100ml). Medically necessary liquids and gels, including medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice, are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces (100ml), but you will avoid hassles if can skip exceptions.


  • For liquids you want to carry on the plane remember the 3-1-1 rule. You can have one one liter clear plastic bag filled with as manner liquid containers as you like, but each of the containers needs to be 3.4 fluid ounces (100ml) or less in capacity. And no, a 6 fluid ounce container that is half full will not be allowed on the plane.
  • Check the list of prohibited items from the TSA. The general rules are that anything that can be a weapon like scissors with blades more than 4 inches long won’t be allowed in the cabin. Anything that might blow up or catch fire won’t be allowed on the plane.
  • Anything that you will need to take out of the bag at security: laptop, your liquids bag, or anything suspicious looking like my big metal Blue Yeti Microphone should be packed where you can get to them quickly like in an outside pocket.
  • Don’t bring wrapped presents, bring the present and the wrapping paper.

What to Wear

  • A girl missed her flight recently because she chose the day she flew to carry a pocket book with a gun on the outside. Seriously? Don’t be stupid. Leave you ironic “I am the unibomber” t-shirt at home. I feel no sympathy for the friend who wore a Tianamen Square Protest t-shirt through customs at China. He was delayed. You think?
  • Wear pants that will stay up if you take your belt off.
  • Wear shoes you can get on and off easily.
  • Don’t wear all your metal jewelry.
  • People have missed flights for dressing with skirts too short or see through blouses. You don’t have to dress like a nun… but it wouldn’t hurt.
  • I prefer to wear a shirt with a pocket where I can keep my boarding pass.

In the Security Line

  • If you have a choice of a security line for premier passengers, use that line. These passengers travel more often and are better organized.
  • You will need a boarding pass to get on the security line. Have it out and ready.
  • When you get to the end of the security line you will need that boarding pass again and an official picture id. Have them out and ready.
  • While you are line is a great time to:
  • Empty your pockets. If you are going to go through a metal detector take out your change, keys and other metal items and put them in your carry-on. If you are going to go through a Backscatter X-ray machine you need your pockets completely empty. If you are not sure which you will go through then empty your pockets.
  • Take off your belt and put it in your carry one. Be glad you wore the pants that don’t fall down.
  • Put your cell phone or iPod in your carry-on
  • Make sure your liquids bag is handy.
  • Take off your coat or jacket

Before the X-ray Machine / Metal Detector

  • You should now have nothing in your pockets and your coat off.
  • Take off your shoes and put them in a bin with your liquids bag and jacket. Kids under 12 years of age should no longer be required to take off their shoes in the U.S.
  • Take out your laptop if you have one and put it in a separate bin.
  • Place your carry-on and bins on the conveyor belt. Think about what order you place things on the belt. I place my most valuable item like a laptop in the middle of my things to minimize the time it is out of my hands.
  • Know how many items you put in the X-ray machine.
  • Get in line for the Metal Detector or Backscatter X-ray Machine and wait to be signaled to enter by the TSA Officer.
  • Enter the machine.

After the X-ray Machine / Metal Detector

  • If the TSA needs an additional pat down because you forgot something in your pockets, comply courteously.
  • If the TSA needs to do a residue test of an item they will be handling the item and you will not be touching it. Gather your other items and comply courteously.
  • Your goal is to move your stuff as far down the belt on the other side of the machine as you can as fast as you can. Make room for the people behind you before you worry about putting back on your shoes, jacket, etc.
  • Gather all your items, put your self together and pat yourself on the back. You are done.
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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

One Response to “Speed Through Security in the Airport”

Jay Kane


Great information ongetting through security at the airoport. I like renting vacation homes through HereStay.com in rural, uncrowded areas, and even at the teeny tiny aiports with only a few planes and a single terminal, airport security is something that is taken very seriously.

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