11 Tips for Getting Past TSA Quicker

By: Bob Bales

You have been planning and looking forward to that great getaway vacation and now the time is almost here. If you are like most people dread sets in when you arrive at the airport and realize that you have to run the gauntlet of security known as TSA just to get past the gatekeepers and into the holy sanctum of the departure area. Once you negotiate the check in area and get that coveted boarding pass comes the long line of people with their carry-on bags, strollers and impatient kids slowly kicking their bags on the floor inching ever so closely to the front of the line. For a lot of people the TSA security check is one of the worst parts of the travel experience and if you are unlucky enough to fly during peak hours or bad weather the wait to get through the line can be frustrating. Especially if you are running late. Here are a few tips that might help reduce your anxiety and get you to the plane a little faster.


11. Pack Your Bags Right

Before you ever leave the house make sure you pack right. That means not putting anything in your bag that is prohibited. Instead of reading the list at the entrance to the security line and scrambling to dig around in your luggage for things not allowed in carry-on luggage or prohibited items in general, take some time and pack properly. Don’t put anything in your bag that isn’t allowed. There is a reason the little bins full of disposable lighters and pocket knives are always full, they are prohibited. Go to the TSA website and take a look at the list of items you can’t transport and things that can’t be in your carry-on bags. Things like aerosol cans and lighter fluid are prohibited in all luggage while safety matches are not allowed in checked bags but okay in carry-on, go figure.


10. Organize Your Packed Items

Assume that the TSA agent will want to open and go through your luggage. Do them (and mainly yourself) a favor and make it easy for them. Pack your belongings neatly so it will be easy to open, check and get you on your way. Wind up and tie electrical cords, put things in clear plastic bags so they are easy to see and make it easy to visually see everything in your luggage. The more cluttered things are the longer it will take to inspect and the longer it will take you to re-pack everything. If your bags do get opened, it will make things go faster and get you out of line a lot quicker. After all that is the goal, right?

Packing (2)

9. Dress Appropriately

These days you have to consider what clothes you wear when flying just as you would if you are headed out to a party. The difference is a lot of clothing will slow you down in the security line and you don’t need to dress to impress. Clothes containing any kind of metal, wearing lots of jewelry, lace up boots and more will only slow you down. Instead leave the jewelry packed in your carry-on or better yet don’t bring it. Jackets, hats and belts will have to be removed and run through the x-ray machine. Laptops will have to be removed. Before you enter the line remove coins, wallets, belts and anything else that might set off the metal detectors and put them in your carry-on. Wear shoes that can be easily taken off and put back on. Configure everything before going through security so all you have on your person is your boarding pass and ID. That will ensure you get through in one pass instead of being motioned off to the side for a pat down.

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8. Liquids

Follow the 3-1-1 rule which means containers must be 3.4 ounces or less; stored in a 1 quart/liter zip-top bag; 1 zip-top bag per person, placed in the screening bin. A lot of places sell plastic bottles this size specifically for taking through TSA security. If you have other liquids pack them in your checked bags or just buy it when you get to your destination. Medically required liquids and baby formula are allowed in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as it is reasonable for the flight and don’t have to be put in plastic bags. Remember though, you are dealing with people making decisions at the moment and may not agree with you on what is necessary.  Just a hint, if you pack liquids in your checked bags put them in a zip top bags so if the spill they don’t make a mess all over everything else.

liquids airport


7. Food Items

Some foods are allowed but limited to quantities of less than 3.4 ounces. That means the big bottle of Maple Syrup you are bring back from your trip to Vermont won’t be allowed on the plane unless it is checked. Certain things like fruit and baked goods are allowed but save yourself the hassle and buy the pie at your destination. Bottles of alcohol can’t be brought on board unless they are less than 3.4 ounces. That is why you see bags of alcohol in duty free bags being loaded on the plane on some flights only to be retrieved once you get to your destination. Be mindful when traveling internationally as a lot of things may not be allowed through customs once you arrive. Fruits and meats are routinely confiscated by customs agents. The TSA says salad dressing less than 3.4 ounces is allowed but really, why would you want to bring it on board?

6. Sharp Objects

While it should be common sense not to bring on board things like meat cleavers, axes, swords and box cutters, you would be surprised how many are confiscated. Even though items such as nail clippers and tweezer are allowed in carry-on luggage these items have been confiscated in the past by overzealous TSA agents. Do yourself a favor and leave anything that might cause the agent to confiscate an item behind. If you need a small item during your trip just buy it when you arrive where you are going or put it in checked baggage. Items such as spear guns for diving, scissors and anything else sharp can usually be safely transported in checked bags. Check the TSA site for prohibited items and you will find a list of things allowed.

5. Kids, Elderly and People with Disabilities

Children under 12 can leave their shoes on. Put all belongings, strollers and other things through the x-ray machine. Grab enough bins so you can get everything through without it spilling over. People over 75 don’t need to remove shoes either. I guess TSA doesn’t consider kids and the elderly as threats. Both kids and the elderly are allowed two passes through the metal detector before they are given the dreaded pat down. Make sure you put all objects on the conveyor belt that could set off the detector so you don’t have worry about going through more than once. Anyone with a disability should notify the security agent ahead of going through the metal detector. If you do have to get a pat down it might help from having your bad knee man handled too roughly.

4. Pat Downs

There are stories almost daily of people refusing pat downs and TSA agents being fired for inappropriate pat down procedures. If you do get singled out for a pat down there are a few things you can do to make it less stressful. First ask the agent to put on a new pair of gloves. They are required to if asked. If they refuse politely ask for a supervisor. Besides the fact you don’t want germ-covered gloves all over you it will insure that any residue left over from previous pat downs isn’t attributed to you. Ask for the pat down to be done publicly in front of other passengers. Most cases on inappropriate pat downs occur when people are taken to secluded areas. Agents are not allowed to grab and fondle private parts. If you feel that the agent is going too far take a step back and again firmly but politely ask for a supervisor. You can ask for another agent to do the pat down.

3. Going Through the Scanners

Once you have everything on the conveyor belts and you are ready to pass through the metal detector you should still keep an eye on your belongings. Keep a mindful watch on your belongings in the bins and watch them as they pass through the scanner. When it comes time to go through the metal detector do so at a steady pace. If you go through one of the full body scanners pay attention to the directions and do it right the first time so you can move out quickly. Stopping or walking extremely slow might set off a false alarm. Once on the other side keep an eye on your belongings. Intentional or not someone might grab your bin thinking it is theirs. As soon as you see your belongings grab the bin and before you do anything else make sure you have possession of all your bins before trying to get the items out.


2. Once Through Security

Quickly remove all items from the conveyor belt and get out of the way. Don’t spend time trying to put on shoes. Stash your laptop in the bag and make sure you get everything out of the bins. There will be an area where you can put your socks and shoes on and re pack everything properly. You can remove everything from your bags that you want to carry on your person at that time. Standing next to the conveyor belt and trying to dress and repack everything only slows down the process and makes you rush unnecessarily. Before leaving the area ensure you have everything with you. Boarding passes, wallets, watches and more have been left behind and once you leave the area the chances of recovering them are slim.

airport security

1. Bypass the Lines and Breeze Through

Did you ever notice the one line that is empty or has very few people? That is because it is reserved for Business and First Class passengers. Paying extra has benefits besides a more comfortable flight. Some airlines also offer express screening. Frequent flier programs with certain airlines such as Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways, Delta, United and a few others offer TSA PreCheck which will allow you to get through screening quicker. The TSA PreCheck program also allows you to keep your shoes and belt on, keep your coat on and you don’t have to remove your laptop from the case. The TSA PreCheck program is available for 12 participating airlines and is in effect in over 150 airports. To qualify, you fill out an application and schedule an appointment for an in-person enrollment. The fee is $85.00 but it might be worth it if you travel more than once or twice a year.