How to Sail through Airport Security

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Photo by Roman Chyller on Unsplash

Basic truth:

I enjoy flying (yes, even today). I hate airports.

Hate them.

One of the worst aspects of navigating a modern airport is, of course, security. It often seems that security is intended to inconvenience us as much as possible while not really protecting us at all. How do you get through airport security quickly?

Tips for Getting Through Security

  1. Follow the rules, which means checking them again before you fly. If you’re going overseas, bear in mind the rules may be different. Taking off shoes is a specifically U.S. thing, for example. This is also a good time to check customs rules for any countries you are flying into.
  2. Fly at an off peak time if you can. Now, some of us aren’t going to fly at 6am unless we have no other choice, but…
  3. Make sure that your boarding pass and ID are handy and that you haven’t accidentally put them in the bottom of your purse.
  4. Invest in a travel vest. I love and adore my travel vest. Instead of having to worry about emptying all of my pockets…I take all of my pockets off and put them on the conveyor. Travel vests are also good for not getting pickpocketed, and great for carrying your phone and wallet if you’re hiking, on a horse, or otherwise engaged in physical activity where you can’t carry a bag.
  5. Wear shoes you can take off quickly. Now, if you’re trying to pack light and wearing your boots this can be a problem, but for the most part…
  6. Any electronics larger than a cellphone have to be pulled out of your bag and screened separately. This may or may not include DSLRs. I’ve been yelled at for not taking my camera out and yelled at for taking my camera out, it’s a no win. There’s usually somebody shepherding the line. Ask them. Some sites will recommend checking your tablet and laptop if you don’t need them during the flight. Please don’t. Not only do you risk losing them, but there is a (small) risk of the lithium battery exploding when the pressure drops during the flight. Finally, when you pack your bag, separate chargers from electronics and wrap them neatly, with twist ties if needed. This prevents you from having to deal with a tangle and also extends the life of charging ports.
  7. If you realize you still have a water bottle, just drink it. If you realize you still have booze…don’t just drink it (people have and you’re likely to end up not allowed on your flight).
  8. While waiting in line, remove your watch, any large jewelry, and anything in jeans or shirt pockets and put them in your travel vest or your carry on bag. Note that watches without metal straps are fine to keep on these days and even metal watches should be fine if you’re going through a body scanner rather than a metal detector.
  9. See if your airport has a security wait time app. If it does, you can use this to go to the checkpoint with the shortest lines.
  10. Be nice to the TSA guys. Look, we’ve all heard the horror stories, but these guys have a thankless job. Unless somebody’s actively being racist or whatever, a smile and a thank you goes a long way.
  11. If you are flying with medications keep them in the original container. If you’re carrying an inhaler, liquid medication that exceeds the 3.5 oz limit, or anything else that requires a medical exemption, tell the security guy right when you reach the checkpoint.
  12. Watch out for some unexpected traps. I’ll talk about those in the next section.

Weird Stuff that Flags Security

So, I mentioned unexpected traps. Here are a few things that have caused problems for people in my knowledge:

  1. Cards. Little known fact: A deck of cards looks exactly like a block of C4 in an X-ray. Particularly if you are carrying Tarot cards or CCG cards that are larger than regular playing cards, consider taking your cards out of your bag and putting them with your electronics. Competitive Magic players actually put their decks in plastic bags so they can do this easily.
  2. Dice. Another one for the gamers: Dice just look plain weird on the X-ray, and have been known to flag.
  3. Rolled up jean cuffs. Try to avoid wearing pants you have to roll up. Body scanners can’t see through the cuffs and you’ll end up with your ankles being patted down.
  4. Ponytails. Believe it or not, ponytails flag. Especially if you present as male. It happens to my husband all the time. Other hairstyles are even worse. Braids, hats, hair covers. Yes, it’s racist, but
  5. Food. Put your in flight snacks in a sandwich bag and pull them out. I have a friend who nearly missed her flight because of cookies. Some food looks like gel in the scanners. Other food can look like explosives (cheese and sausage are the prime offenders). Peanut butter in a jar is a gel and needs to be checked.
  6. Snow globes. Snow globes are not allowed in carry-on. They actually surpass the liquid limit.
  7. Underwire bras. Consider flying in a sports bra, or even sans bra if you’re comfortable that way. The TSA claims they won’t set off the metal detector, but sometimes they do.
  8. Having, uh, bits that don’t match your ID. Yeah, it really sucks for trans travelers out there. The problem is that the software in the body scanners is gender specific and if you have breastforms, packies, or are binding, you’re likely to get a pat down. You will need to be honest with the TSA, but can always request that any secondary screening is done in private. If you qualify for TSA Pre-Check get it. (Secondary note: Please consider not binding for long haul flights, I’m told it can end up really uncomfortable).

If you want to find out about more weird stuff that can flag airport security, follow the TSA on Twitter, they occasionally post stuff that they find that’s just plain odd. The weirdest item confiscated in 2019? Moose poop.

Written by

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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