If you’re like most people, getting through airport security ranks somewhere between “going to the dentist” and “filing my taxes” on the list of Things I’d Rather Not Have To Do. I’m here to tell you that while it probably won’t ever be the highlight of your vacation, airport security also doesn’t have to be completely miserable. Without further ado, here are my top ten tips on how to get through airport security painlessly.
1. Take it slow
The biggest mistake people make when dealing with airport security is simply trying to rush the process. Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of time for shenanigans rather than trying to run to your gate at the last second. All of the stress around this particular hassle will be greatly reduced if you aren’t simultaneously trying to rush through the process. Trust me on this one. I always try to get to the airport at least two hours before my flight.
2. Whip it out
From the time you enter the front doors of the airport until you are listening to a flight attendant tell you where to find the emergency exits of your plane, you will be asked for your boarding pass and ID multiple times. Keep these items somewhere accessible like a small cross-body bag or in the front pocket of your carry-on luggage to make it easier to pull them out for your ticketing agent, airport security, and gate agent. Personally, I really like this purse for traveling because it has RFID protection to keep your identity safe, is easy to wipe clean, and is made of sturdy materials to help keep your items with you. Plus, it’s small enough to fit inside your carry-on suitcase or a larger personal item if you need more space.
3. Empty your pockets
Many people expect to return from vacation with empty pockets, but did you know it’s also best to START your trip that way? Before you even hit the security line, move everything out of your pockets and into your purse or bag. Tissues, pocket change, car keys… literally everything. That way, you won’t have to fumble with it in the security line. Besides, the fewer loose items you have floating around, the less risk you run of leaving something behind.
4. Be prepared to strip
I’m not talking Demi Moore in Striptease here, but if you are wearing a jacket, sweater, scarf or any other kind of layers, you will be asked to remove it and send it through the scanner with the rest of your belongings. Belts and large jewelry will also need to be removed. This is easily something you can do ahead of time while you are waiting in line so that you don’t feel so rushed when it’s your turn at the conveyor belt.
5. Put a sock in it
People will tell you to wear slip-on shoes to make it easier to get through airport security because you’ll have to remove them and place them on the conveyer belt. It’s good advice, but only half of what you need to hear. While flip-flops will certainly make the security process easier, they also leave you exposed. Once you take them off and find yourself standing barefoot, you may feel a little more naked than you bargained for as you picture the thousands of other people who have stood in that exact spot with their athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, or warts. EW.
Instead, try wearing a slip-on flat or sneaker with a sock or liner to give you some protection. I usually go with something like these to help reduce the Ew Factor if I’m not able to wear real socks.
6. Get off the grid
The TSA has recently changed their rules regarding electronics so make sure you are paying attention to this one. Basically, any device larger than your cellphone needs to come out of the bag and lay flat in a tray with nothing under it or on top of it. This doesn’t include things like your hair dryer, but anything with a computer chip or motherboard (think tablets, laptops, handheld video games…) will need to come out of the bag and be individually screened.
7. Hold your liquid
Remember Major Payne making fun of the six year old for peeing his pants? No? Just me? Ok then, this is awkward. Anyway… the rules for liquids are a little weird if you don’t travel frequently so let me break this one down for you.
- All liquids and gels (deodorant, toothpaste, lip gloss, lube, hand sanitizer, medicines, whatever…) need to be in individual containers no larger than 3.4 ounces each. If you have 2 ounces of shampoo in a 15 ounce bottle, expect it to be thrown out. If you have a drink with you, expect it to be thrown out. Think travel-sized necessities only here.
- All of your containers need to fit inside a single quart-sized clear plastic bag. A properly-sized Ziploc bag will work but if you need a little more structure or want one you can use for perpetuity, this one works nicely.
- Your clear bag has to be removed from your carry-on and placed in a bin to go through the x-ray machine along with your shoes, belt, jacket, and electronics.
8. Expect to be felt up
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, there is still a chance you will be selected for additional screening. This may include a quick swab over the palms of your hands or a pat-down by a security officer. For most of us, this is just a time to make awkward jokes about not being felt up this much since Senior Prom. But if you happen to have social anxiety or have been a victim of sexual abuse in the past, then this is no laughing matter. As your friend, I’m telling you to mentally prepare yourself ahead of time in case either of these issues apply to you. Here are some things you should know:
- Your pat-down will be conducted by an officer of the same gender and you have the right to request a private screening if you so choose. Your private screening will include a second officer as a witness and you can bring your travel companion with you as well.
- Pat-downs may cover sensitive areas and you may be touched more than once. They should be using the BACK of their hand to touch you anywhere around your breasts, buttocks, or groin so it is truly a pat and not a grope that you are experiencing.
- Additional security screening is not aimed at you in particular and is not intended to be sexual in nature. It will be over soon if you just keep breathing.
9. Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep an eye on your items as though go through the security scanners and come out the other end. It’s awfully easy for someone to mistakenly (or not), grab the wrong bag and while you may be surrounded by Security agents, they are screening your belongings rather than paying attention to who they belong to. Always double check the area and make sure you have everything you need before you leave the security screening area.
10. Ask for help
If you have special circumstances, do not hesitate to ask for help. You can start here with me, check the TSA website, search your airline’s FAQ page, or talk to your ticketing agent. Whether you are sending a minor to travel alone, unable to walk the distance required to get to your gate or remove your shoes for airport security, if you can’t read the signage, or don’t know the rules about traveling with an infant… whatever your special circumstances happen to be, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more you can plan ahead to accommodate your needs, the easier it will be to adjust accordingly and the more pleasant your experience is likely to be.
Got a great tip or another question about getting through airport security? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading along and if you need more tips for the rest of your journey, check out this A-Z guide to travel.