There are a few inevitable things in life: death, taxes and getting caught behind the slooooowest person in line for airport security.
Although you can’t control the lady in front of you with three children under four, a diaper bag, a stroller and six car seats, there are some quick tricks to get you through the checkpoint and on your way. In the meantime, be patient with those moms and all the other casual travelers who take it slow, not everyone has it down to a science.
Use these ideas to speed up your next TSA screening (Transportation Security Administration) in the US. Other countries have differing standard practices, but these general tips will serve you well. Be sure to check out the website for international airlines, as some do not allow any liquids and others have no restriction on shampoo at all.
While the TSA agents might not greet you with the warmth of your best friend, you should still get friendly with their website: TSA.gov.
The convenient search engine on the right side called “When I Fly Can I Bring My…?” will save you postage on mailing things to yourself or throwing away a precious souvenir. Often passengers contact airlines with questions about bringing this or that. Before calling or emailing your carrier, check the TSA website to see if the item in question is allowed. Then use the airline’s website for dimensions and be sure to follow the carry on luggage rules
Be sure to lean on the site as a resource if you’re traveling with a pet, art or anything unusual.
As they scan your bags, the agents glance at the contents for anything alarming or dense. As simple as it sounds, pack neatly and there’s less to see. By coiling cords instead of wadding, they are easily identified. Same goes for neatly folding or rolling clothes as well as separating other irregular items.
If you’ve flown in the last 14 years, you know the 3-1-1 rule for liquids, etc.: 3.4oz per container, all in 1 quart-sized bag, 1 bag per passenger. Pack that little plastic bag on an outside pocket of your suitcase or backpack for easy access. Nothing makes me cringe like watching someone unzip their luggage and rifle through unmentionables to find that cursed ziplock.
If you travel with a laptop, keep it reachable. It needs its own bin for the scanner.
Before leaving home, double check that none of your everyday items are prohibited on the plane. Commonly confiscated items, like pocketknives, pepper spray and small tools, need to be unpacked. I recommend following TSA on Instagram to see all the wild things they find as well as their service dogs.
On the Way to the Airport
TSA rolled out an app for the road warriors called My TSA. From the airport, you can post your wait time and see what other fliers are experiencing. It features the handy “Can I Bring?” option as well as the weather and on time performance of your local station. A quick check before leaving the house paints a picture of how much time you’ll need to get through security and make your flight.
On the ride to the airport, I empty my pockets into my coat pockets or purse. Since the coat comes off, those pockets can be full. I usually loosen my shoes so I can slip them off easily too.
I always jot my confirmation number on my hand so I can waltz up to the kiosk and tap it in to print my boarding pass. No digging it in my backpack or scrolling around in my phone looking for that number. You can use your credit card to pull up your reservation as well, print it at home or access it via a mobile boarding pass. Whatever you do, keep it handy as well as your ID or passport.
The most helpful tip for standing in line is know the drill. Shoes off, belt off, coat off, bag of toiletries ready, laptop in a separate container, GO!
On the other hand, remember what you don’t have to take off. No need to dig out your phone, camera or any electronics smaller than a computer. Keep all that in your bag or coat pockets. You can keep your jewelry on, too!
If you have Global Entry Access, you might be lucky enough to keep your shoes and belt on. To learn more about the program and to apply, check out the TSA site.
Practice makes perfect. With every trip I take, I pack more efficiently and find one more edge to smooth off this process. What are your best tricks for breezing through the TSA line? Please share!
TSA is never the highlight of your trip, but here are some ways to make the inevitable scan more manageable.
- Research any items in question
- Pack neatly
- Jeep your flight info handy
- Know what needs to be scanned and what you can keep on
- Download the TSA app to make life easier
Want more like this?
Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. We’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.