Nothing is a bigger annoyance during a travel experience than the TSA security check. The long lines. The nit-picky rules. Having a random person carelessly dump all your belongings out because of a forgotten tube of sunscreen that’s over 3 ounces. No one likes the airport security process. No one. And it’s even less fun when the passengers in front of you aren’t up to speed with the process and slow everything down. After going through airport security over 1,000 times across 5 continents, I’ve picked up on a few key tips to minimize stress and show courtesy to your fellow travelers.
TSA Basic Procedure
The specifics of security checks can shift slightly depending on your location and level of airport traffic that day, but typically here’s what you should expect from your airport security checkpoint:
- Check ticket and ID/Passport
- Scan all baggage
- Laptops and large electronics out of bags
- Shoes off
- Toiletries out of bags 50% of the time (90% of the time when out of the US)
- Physical scan through either the normal metal detector or the new scanner
- Reassemble your items into carry-on bags and put shoes on.
Know Before You Go
- Wear a TSA-Friendly Outfit:
Picking an outfit that reduces the hassle of the security checkpoint will make your life way easier and cut down on the time it takes you to adjust your outfit pre and post check. Any excessive layering or metal accents are an automatic delay. You will have to take off jackets, sweaters, belts, and jewelry so avoid all of these items when selecting your outfit for the day. Good options include loose dresses, workout gear like leggings, sweats, or jeans and a simple shirt. Save your complicated outfits for once you’re at the destination. Or if you truly want to wear those bracelets and belts, put them in your carry-on bag before you leave home and put them on once you’ve passed security and are sitting at your gate.
- Slide on Shoes:
Unless you’re under twelve or over seventy-five, you will almost definitely have to remove your shoes. Wear sandals, or any shoe that is easy to slide on and off. Additionally, try to take off your shoes as quickly as possibly as you near the conveyor belt. It really slows things down if you wait until you’re the next person to go through the scanner and you’re fumbling around with your shoes.
- Strategically Pack Carry-on Bags:
Pack your bags in a way that’s easy to adjust when you’re going through the TSA security checkpoint. If you’re bringing large electronics or toiletries in a carry-on, you will have to remove them from your bag for the security check. Plan for this before you leave. Don’t bury these items at the bottom of your bag. Keep them near the top of the bag or in a side pocket so it’s easy to take them out and slide them back in! You’ll thank yourself, and your fellow travelers will too!
- Have Your Laptop Ready:
Keep these babies in a soft foam case. Put them in their own bin (or with your shoes). Certain backpacks have a special spot for them which is easy to slide in and out, or grab a large tote bag like this one. Unless the TSA officer tells you to keep it in your bag, pull it out and place it in a bin. Don’t try to be sneaky and keep it in your carry-on bag, it’s not going to work.
- Liquids Laws:
The official TSA rule on liquids states: “You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Placing these items in the small bag and separating from your carry-on baggage facilitates the screening process.”
This rule is a strict one! Even if you’re .1 ounces over, they’ll take it away. If the 5 ounce toothpaste is only half full, they’ll take it. If you bring a jar of peanut butter, they will take it. No ifs, and’s or but’s! They are very strict on this rule. In certain places (mostly in European countries) they require you to remove your liquids and gels and place them in a specific clear plastic bag and pass them through the scanner on their own. I suggest keeping your liquids separated in advance to arriving at the airport and near the top of your carry-on bag so that if this specific rule is in place, it’s simple to grab a bag and transfer your liquids into it. You can replace them in your toiletry bag once you’ve passed through security.
Airport Security Tips for Efficiency and Courtesy
- Have your ticket and ID out prior to your turn with the TSA officer. Don’t waste time fumbling around for it in your bag.
- Once your ticket and ID have been checked, put them away! You won’t need them again until it’s time to board the plane, and they’ll just get in the way (or worse, lost!) during the rest of the security check. Tuck them into a side pocket of your carry-on bag to avoid constant questions and reminder from the TSA officers about how everything must be taken out of your pockets.
- Immediately take off your shoes, and once you have a spot at the table remove jackets, electronics and toiletries.
- Put the bin containing your shoes and small items (phone, wallet, etc.) in the machine first (before your carry-on or suitcase). This will make it quicker for you to get re-assembled on the other end. You can put on your shoes and get your laptop back in your bag while you wait for your suitcase to pass through the scanner.
- Follow the TSA officer’s instructions. Yep, all the rules apply to you. And sometimes they change. So listen up! It’ll make everything go much more smoothly.