If you have flown in the last few years, you know probably already know that getting through airport security can be stressful and may even lead to significant delays. Before I became a Travel Agent, I used to work for Homeland Security as a TSA officer, and I have picked up a few tips that will help you navigate security easily and hopefully as quickly as possible.
Get to the airport two hours early.
First one you have probably heard over and over again, but it is essential, especially in larger airports. While most of the time, this will leave you with spare time at the gate, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Many times, an entire checkpoint can be close for various reasons which can cause major delays, having extra time will ensure you make it to your flight on time. Don’t count on the airlines holding the flights even when there are significant issues with security.
Find the checkpoint with the shortest wait times.
If your airport is the hub for a major airline, the checkpoints furthest from that airline will typically have much short wait times. Several airports are actually, now posting wait times near the airline check-in counters. If you are in a larger airport, take a peek at these and see which ones are shorter. But be sure you can get to your gate through that checkpoint first, many airports are set up where you can only access specific gates through certain checkpoints. Some airports are even listing wait times on their websites. Now if those numbers are low, don’t think you can now get to the airport later than the two hours, things happen, and those numbers can drastically change quickly.
Have your IDs and tickets out and ready to go
Once you arrive at TSA, have your IDs and tickets ready. To help expedite, each person should be holding their own paper ticket, even kids. Kids under the age of 18 do not need an ID to get through TSA, but the agent at the podium may ask them their name to verify they are the person on the ticket. If you have digital tickets, make sure they are open on your phone and ready to go. Don’t wait until you step up to the podium to open the app. Also, have a printed back up in just in case. Phones are not always 100% reliable (cell service is out, battery dies, it decides to update at that exact moment, etc.), if you can’t pull up your ticket you will have to get out of line and back up to the airline check-in counter then back through the line.
Take out those toiletries.
To get through the line as quickly as possible, be sure to take out your toiletries, even if they are within the legal limit. The limit is each item can be no larger than 3.4 ounces each, and they must all fit into a quart-sized bag, and only one bag per person (3-1-1 rule). If you have them out, they will not need to search your bag if something looks slightly large or just strange. Plenty of bags are pulled and searched just because the agent on the x-ray couldn’t tell what it was. If they are in a bin, the agent can pick it up to make sure it is good to go.
It’s not just liquids.
The rule above is not just for liquids. It also goes for gels, aerosols, and paste. That includes toothpaste, body scrubs, lotions, and even butter. Yes butter, you would be surprised what people fly with. If it is weird, you are better off taking it out of your bag and putting it in a bin. Things like the five pound Hersey Kiss you got at Hersey Park, or the giant bag of jelly beans, or the human femur (yes it happened), or your dog’s ashes. Even though all of those are ok to fly with, they look very strange on an x-ray. If you take them out of your bag, you will avoid having your bag pulled, swabbed, and searched. Also, just because you bought it at the airport does not mean it can go past security. Be sure to purchase those toiletries and gifts like snow globes after you get past security at the gate. The exception to this is duty-free liquors, but they need to be packed correctly by the shop, and you must have your receipt.
One of the biggest reasons why bags get checked is laptops and other large electronics left in the bag. If you don’t have a bag designed to have the laptop one side, take the laptop out of your bag and place it in a bin by itself. If it is small enough, you can put stuff on the side but not on top or under it. That goes even for jackets or hats. If they can’t get a good view, they may have to re-run the bin slowing down the process and causing you a delay in getting to your gate. Even if you do have a bag where the laptop is by itself, make sure there is nothing else in that section like papers, folders, or other electronics.
Everything out of your pockets
If you are traveling with a child under the age of 13, the entire family can go through the metal detector. Stay together as a family until everything is in the x-ray machine, and then the officer at the metal detector should wave you through one at a time. If you guys split up, they won’t know that you are all in the same family and may send some of you through the AIT (the body scanner). Everyone over the age of 13 still needs to take their shoes off.
If you are not going through the metal detector, you will be going through the AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology). Be sure to take off your shoes, hat, jackets, belts and everything out of your pockets and send it through the x-ray. That means everything. Even tissues will be picked up. Also, if you are wearing ‘bling’ on the back of your jeans, don’t be surprised if the machine picks it up. Might want to save those for non-traveling days or you might end up getting a brief pat down to your backside (or where ever the bling is).
These tips will help you get through faster and without issue, but the number one way to get through security fast is to sign up for TSA Pre-Check. The cost is around $85 for five years, so about $17 per year. You do need to fill out an application and do a background check, but after you are approved, you can leave your shoes on and everything in your bag. You can even wear your favorite pair of blingy jeans. On average passengers with Pre-check wait 5 minutes or less to get through security.
Thank you to our Marvelous Mouse agent Jennifer Suissa for this great information! When you are ready to plan your next vacation reach out to one of our travel experts!