You get ready to go out to dinner. You make preparations for places you’ll visit on your trip.
But do you actually make yourself ready to pass through airport security?
Step one should take place before you ever leave home.
Check Luggage for Surprises
Imagine this: you’re in the TSA security line with a family member, and you get a tap on the shoulder. This family member covertly reveals a large pocket knife and a worried glance.
Explanation? A few months earlier, he had used the suitcase during a move to transport some small items, including the knife. He had forgotten about that move until noticing the outline of the knife in an outer compartment.
At this point, you can explain yourself to security, and they might let you through without being detained. But the knife will be confiscated. In our case, there was a trash barrel prior to the screening point for bottled water. The knife wound up in the trash.
Make it common practice to check all the compartments of your luggage for potential contraband before you leave home.
Put the Phone Away
In almost every such line I’ve ever entered in recent years, I’ll see multiple people using mobile phones. This might be a part of your daily routine, but it’s also a fairly common example of what not to do in a security line.
That phone should be stashed in your carry-on baggage by the time you enter the screening area. Your ticket and boarding pass are all that should be in your hands.
Find a waiting area just outside the entrance to security and stow these other items as well: wristwatch, metal belt, wallet, keys, jewelry, pocket change, and of course, the phone.
There are two important reasons for making this adjustment. One involves keeping the line moving. When you stop to slowly remove these items one-by-one in the security line, you take time away from everyone behind you.
The second reason is rooted in security. There are bandits who work in teams and remove wallets and jewelry from the conveyor belt before the owner becomes aware of the problem. It’s a risky crime, and your chances of being a victim are slim. Why take a chance? No one is going to palm your carry-on. But your wallet is easy to snatch and pass.
Dress for Success
Do you really want to wear that outfit with all the metal zippers on it? You’ll almost certainly be pulled out of line for an additional “wanding” with a hand-held metal detector.
If you don’t have TSA Pre✓™, you’ll be removing your shoes during this process. Wear loafers or some other kind of footwear that can be removed and restored quickly.
That jacket you’re wearing will have to come off, too. Be prepared to place it on the conveyor belt if you didn’t remove it and stow it prior to getting in line.
Get Behind a Competent Traveler
At larger airport security areas, you’ll often have line choices as you approach the scanning checkpoint. Your long line will break into several shorter lines. This is an important moment in your security journey.
By now, it’s possible you’ve spotted a frequent flier. He or she appears to have done this many times. They’re not talking on the phone. They aren’t wearing metal.
You should follow this person whenever possible. They will pass through the checkpoint quickly.
Someone who looks confused or has several children in tow is less likely to breeze through the area.
Take Out Laptops and Tablets
If you choose to travel with a laptop or a tablet, realize that in a standard security line at U.S. airports, it must come out of your luggage and go through the scanner in its own bin.
Some travelers believe they can save time by simply keeping it in the carry-on bag. Others think that when personnel see what is obviously a laptop bag, they’ll simply let it go through the scanner.
This is an important exception to the previous advice about stowing expensive items. You will frequently buy yourself delay and scrutiny if you fail to follow this rule.
The examination of laptops is almost universal, but the rule on unpacking tablets can vary between countries or even between checkpoints within a country.
In London, I failed to take out a tablet and it cost me about 30 minutes at the security checkpoint. Thinking it was not necessary proved to be incorrect, and the personnel proceeded to unpack and inspect every item in my luggage.
This lengthy, intrusive process doesn’t begin immediately at many checkpoints. You’ll wait in line behind others who made the same mistake. Security personnel usually are not all that sympathetic about final boarding call concerns.
Assume all laptops and tablets need inspection and put them in plain sight. If there is someone else in your party, have them go ahead of you so they can keep an eye on your valuable electronics at the other end of the scanner.
Know the Restrictions on Liquids
As with laptops and tablets, any liquids, aerosols or gels in your carry-on luggage will receive attention at airport security checkpoints.
The best advice is to leave all such items at home, but that’s not always practical. The next best approach is to stow all such liquids in a see-through plastic freezer bag.
In the U.S., you can bring liquids on a plane, but only in certain quantities.
The best way to remember the rule is to think of it as the 3-1-1 Regulation: bottles must be 3.4 fl. oz. or less (100 ml), one quart transparent plastic bag hermetically sealed, and one bag per passenger placed in the inspection container.
Any quantity larger than 3.4 fl. oz. will not make it on the flight, and you’ll be asked to discard it.
So as you work on preparing lightweight baggage prior to leaving for the airport, make the 3-1-1 routine part of your packing process.
If Randomly Selected, Keep Words to a Minimum
One moment you’re waiting patiently in line, and the next moment someone says “You need to come with me.”
It’s a shocking development. You fear you’ve been mistaken for a terrorist. The natural inclination is demand justice and a full explanation.
But a better approach is to simply follow the instruction. Chances are good that you’ve been selected for “enhanced screening.” Such screenings are supposed to occur at random.
This process can also surface if you trigger an alert — perhaps you forgot to remove some change from your pocket.
The more you express your discomfort or disapproval, the more likely you’ll be seen as a person of interest. This is a moment when it pays to be uninteresting. Follow directions.
If it becomes clear this is more than a random enhanced screening, you’ll need to speak up and politely ask some questions. But chances are excellent that you’ll be on your way in a few seconds.
Practice One-Bag Travel
If you’ve ever tried to keep track of three or four bags while passing through airport security, you know it’s slow and stressful business.
Maybe you had small children with you. Perhaps you were unaware that most airlines only allow one carry-on and one small bag.
Excess baggage devalues your trip in many ways. Start with ever-increasing airline baggage fees, especially among budget carriers. Then consider how a bunch of bags will limit opportunities for cheap ground transportation. You’ll be less nimble, and finding storage lockers in the post-9/11 world is not easy. Finally, you’ll appear less competent as a traveler. Thieves and scam artists look for people who lack know-how.
Limit yourself to one bag. This checkpoint is the first of many places where you’ll benefit by keeping baggage to a minimum.
The people in line behind you will be grateful, too.
Allow Extra Time to Clear Security
Much of the advice here might seem rather obvious. It is. But you’d be surprised how many people violate these very basic tenets of good airport etiquette and efficiency.
Even if you follow all of this advice, it’s a mistake to assume quick passage through airport security. Showing up late at the airport is a common and costly mistake.
In large airports, security lines tend to be long. Outbound business travelers can make Monday mornings slow and difficult, even in medium-sized airports. Holiday travel periods bring out lots of novice travelers who move slowly through security.
In these situations, allow 90 minutes or more to get through airport security. You might not need that much time, but on occasion, the time cushion could save you the expense of a missed flight.
Pack a good book. Relax in the waiting area and read it. Let others scramble and stress about making it to the gate on time.