Follow these pro tips to get through airport security quickly — Photo courtesy of Transportation Security Administration
Airports are crowded, security lines are longer, and prime traveling season can put even the most zen person on edge. Luckily, there are ways to handle it all like a pro. It’s more than following the rules set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A hefty dose of common sense will make traveling a breeze.
TSA officers know more than anyone what you should or shouldn’t do in a security line. They shared some personal tricks and tips for getting through any security checkpoint faster, from what to bring (and what not to) and how to act. Here are some of their do’s and don’ts, plus other good ideas to get you through security in less time.
Use your full name on tickets
Make sure the name on your boarding pass matches your ID. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting valuable time trying to explain that you are who you say you are. Leave the nicknames for your besties.
Enroll in TSA PreCheck, Clear, and other programs
There is nothing more daunting than a security line that snakes through the airport. Enroll in TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or Clear to make your way through faster. With TSA PreCheck, you keep on your shoes, belt, and light jackets while going through security. Around 200 airlines participate in the program, as well as 85 airports, so if you travel often, it’s worth the $70 to $80 annual fee.
The Clear kiosks are for identification verification, which speeds up getting through security checkpoints. It’s different from TSA PreCheck in that, although your identity is verified, you’ll still have to follow all the rules to go through the metal detector and put you belongings in the X-ray. Many frequent travelers use both.
Another (often free) service: Some major international airports offer travelers expedited check-in at the security gate. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, reserve a time with SEA Spot Saver, and you’ll go directly to a TSA officer, who will check your ID, and then to the conveyor belt. It’s completely free, and you don’t need a membership or account. You still need to take off your shoes, empty pockets, and walk through, but you possibly skipped a 30- to 45-minute wait in line. It’s a total time-saver.
Dress for success and pack smart
How you pack your carry-on can shave minutes off your time in airport security — Photo courtesy of Transportation Security Administration
Travel fashion is a personal choice, but be smart about what you wear to fly. Keep it minimal, from your layers to your shoes. You’ll have to remove any jewelry that shouldn’t go through the metal detector, take off the extra coat or sweater, and get rid of the belt. Also wear sensible, preferably slip-on, shoes for easy on and off access. (Don’t forget to wear socks!)
When it comes to packing a carry-on bag, keep it relatively neat. Sometimes TSA officers do random bag checks, and you don’t want your clothes popping out all over the place if they unzip yours. Use packing cubes to keep things organized, and don’t stick your laptop or toiletry bag in the middle of everything, so it’s impossible to find when you get to the X-ray.
Prepare your belongings while waiting in line
This is common sense, but if you are stuck in line, start clearing out your pockets or putting your belongings in your carry-on bag. That means anything metallic (even breath mint tins!), keys, coins, sunglasses, and earbuds. Even the smallest thing left in your pockets could warrant a pat-down, and no one, especially the TSA officers, look forward to those.
While you’re at it, make sure your water bottle is empty and have your laptop and other larger electronics out and ready to put in a conveyor bin, if possible.
TSA hot tip: Put your phone in your carry-on bag and not in a bin. Unless you want all those shoes touching your phone that touches your face and hands.
Know what you can and can’t bring through security
Check TSA rules before you pack for your trip — Photo courtesy of Transportation Security Administration
You already know the 3-1-1 liquids rule, but what about vitamins and medications? Is peanut butter solid? What about TSA rules on protein powders? For food — all snacks, fruit, cheeses, sandwiches, and most pre-packed meals — can go in your carry-on bag. If you’re traveling with kids, especially toddlers (more power to you), formula, breast milk, and toddler drinks and food are all allowed.
PS: Don’t bring beverages to a security checkpoint
We’ve all seen that person trying to chug the latte they had in their car or a bottle of water they forgot they slipped in their bag. Don’t be that person. Best practice is to not bring any beverages, hot or cold, to the security checkpoint. If it’s a forgotten bottle in your bag, a TSA agent will pull you out of line, and you’ll have to go through again.
Do, however, bring an empty water bottle to fill with fresh water after the checkpoint before heading to your gate. That’s good for you, your wallet, and the environment. As for coffee, there will be plenty to buy on your way to the gate.
Never joke about explosives or firearms while in the security line
It’s not that TSA officers don’t have a sense of humor, but an airport security checkpoint is neither the time nor the place to quip that you have a bomb or a gun in your bag. Not only will you freak out other passengers, but police most likely will need to get involved. You’ll probably miss your flight, and you may be fined. Just don’t do it.
Firearms at a security checkpoint also a definite no
It’s not funny to joke about having a gun in your bag; it’s even less so when you actually do have one — especially if it’s not properly packed, unloaded, and inside a locked, hard-sided case. Shocking that we even need to say it, but TSA officers regularly find loaded firearms in carry-on luggage, which is a big no-no.
You must declare all firearms at the airline counter, so the gun case will be appropriately transported (i.e., inside the belly of the plane, where you nor anyone can reach it during the flight).
Don’t throw small items onto the X-ray belt
Know TSA rules on traveling with pets well before it’s time to go to the airport — Photo courtesy of Transportation Security Administration
Keep your keys, phone, boarding passes — and anything else that might fall between the conveyor belt rollers — in your bag, a bowl, or a bin. These items can be difficult to retrieve if they fall between the cracks, the belt will need to be stopped, and you’ll get lots of glares from other travelers trying to get to their gates.
When it comes to small pets and humans, please remove Scruffy or Samantha from their respective carriers and walk through the metal detector with your pet or child.
And finally: Be polite
A smile goes a long way in a crowded airport. Be polite to everyone around you, whether it’s the person who forgot to take the water bottle out of their bag, causing a few second delay, or the TSA officer who’s getting you checked in. It will lift your mood too.