The long slog through airport security is one of the least pleasant parts of travel. Yes, it’s dehumanizing to be herded like cattle and face undue scrutiny when you’re just trying to get from A to B, but this is the small price we pay for setting off on grand adventures around the globe. Knowing the rules so you can slide through the TSA screening process as quickly as possible is key to starting your journey off on the right foot. You’ll be on your way before you know it with a bit of preparation.
After arriving at the airport, you might feel tempted to go to the shortest security screening line. However, a short line doesn't necessarily indicate a fast one. Take a look at who makes up each line. A bunch of traveling business people will probably move through security faster than a family that only travels once a year. As an extra tip, move to the side lines at larger airports. New and casual travelers will often just walk straight ahead, making the outer security queues much more efficient.
There are no two ways about it — you have to remove your shoes at the security checkpoint. Why not make it easy for yourself, and wear shoes that you can easily slip off and on again? Nobody needs the hassle of untying, unzipping, or unbuckling fiddly footwear, only to do it all again a few minutes later.
Bearing in mind that your feet will be bare, don’t skip socks! Airport floors are not only freezing, but they’re also far from immaculate — several thousand people walk over them every day. For that reason, skip the sandals and flip-flops.
The exception:Kids under 13, seniors over 75, and people with TSA PreCheck can leave their shoes on.
In general, standard piercings like earrings won't set off the security scans. Even if they do, they're pretty simple to remove. However, certain metal body piercings may trigger the machines, requiring you to go through a manual pat-down.
A TSA agent may ask you to remove your body piercings in a private area if additional screening is necessary. Rather than taking the risk, remove any body piercings before you make it to the security screening.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to part with your bling when you’re passing through security screening. Every year, hundreds of necklaces, bracelets, watches and other prized items are needlessly left behind at the security checkpoint by hurried travelers.
In general, your everyday jewelry, such as earrings or wedding rings, shouldn’t set off any alarms. If it does, a security agent will help you figure out what the issue is.
Remember the 3-1-1 rule: any liquid or gel you carry on board must be in individual 3.4-ounce containers or smaller, and every container must fit into a single clear, quart-sized bag.
Note:The 3-1-1 rule does not apply to liquids in checked luggage.
Breastmilk, formula, and prescription medication, including eye drops, insulin, or syringes, are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule — as long as you declare them at the security checkpoint.
This means you can carry more than 3.4 ounces of these substances without a plastic bag. Just make sure your prescriptions are in their original labeled containers. Though it’s not a requirement, it speeds up the screening process.
It should go without saying that you shouldn't attempt to bring any weapons aboard a flight, but the TSA finds thousands of improperly-stored firearms every year. You must keep all firearms in locked hard-sided containers in your checked baggage. You also have to declare them to the airline.
These rules also apply to toy or replica weapons and firearms.
With conventions reopening all over the country, you don't want to get held up at TSA because you kept your cosplay katana in your carry-on. It is worth noting that replicas of explosives, like hand grenades or mines, are always prohibited in both carry-on and checked baggage.
In June 2018, the TSA set a new regulation on powdered items following a security incident. Now, any powder 12 ounces and above in carry-on luggage is subject to additional security screening — this includes makeup, drink mixes, detergent, spices, coffee, baby powder, and protein powder. Powdered items under 12 ounces should be good to go, but you must still remove them from your carry-on and claim them.
Caveat: Gunpowder is never allowed on any aircraft under any circumstances.
Every second counts when you’re stuck in snaking security lines. Don’t be that person who’s feverishly fumbling through their bag at the last minute. Not only is that stressful for you, but it’s annoying to everyone else equally eager to get to the end of the line. Make sure you have your passport, boarding pass, and any other travel documents front and center before you get anywhere near that first checkpoint. And start taking off your belt, shoes, jacket, watch, and any other items that will go in the bins well before you reach that conveyor belt.
One of the things that seriously slows down security lines is separating your electronic items from your carry-on. The good news is, you don’t have to remove every single electronic — your electric toothbrush or your hairdryer can stay in your bag. However, any item larger than a smartphone, such as a tablet, laptop, or DSLR camera, should go in a bin to be X-rayed separately. And yes, the cases for your electronics need to be scanned too.
If you travel with your laptop often, consider investing in a TSA-friendly bag that will ensure it’s protected and lies flat as it travels down the conveyor belt.
The exception: TSA Precheck members don’t need to remove electronics of any size for separate screening.
As anyone who has been in an airport in December can attest, there's nothing like traveling during the holidays. Airports that are normally devoid of any traffic suddenly look like Grand Central Station. Plus, many people are traveling with gifts, which often means additional scanning and manual checks. Shipping your gifts ahead of time or leaving them in your checked baggage are the best ways to breeze past the TSA.
If you must bring them with you, skip the wrapping. A TSA agent will likely have to remove the wrapping anyway, adding time to your wait and wasting your wrapping efforts.
This one’s pretty much a given, but giving security agents a hard time won’t do you any favors. In fact, being rude or uncooperative is a surefire way to delay your journey. If a TSA agent asks you a question, give them direct and straightforward answers. This is not the time to joke about terrorism or bombs unless you want to find yourself detained — or worse, miss your flight.
Don’t argue about trivial matters either, like whether or not your bottle of body wash really is under 3.4 ounces. The security agent might very well be in the wrong, but they have the power at this point. Starting an argument with them is going to get you nowhere fast.
If you’re respectful and follow the directions you’re given, you’ll speed things up for everyone.
If you fly frequently, you might want to consider using the TSA’s PreCheck program. This pre-screening system will allow you to skip long lines and get fast-tracked through security in a restricted-access lane. The application process includes a background check, so you won’t have to go through the usual security rigmarole involving shoe removal or anything else.
If you travel internationally, consider Global Entry, which includes both PreCheck perks and expedited re-entry into the US.
You might have saved yourself a few bucks buying booze from the duty-free shop, but you still need to put those items into your checked bag -- otherwise, you aren’t going to clear security. The 3-1-1 liquids rule applies to anything you buy at the airport before you reach the TSA checkpoint.
One of the best ways to boost your chances of sailing past the TSA is by downloading the official MyTSA app. It provides passengers with helpful airport security information specific to their chosen airports. The app can also predict how busy the airport will be and provide delay information. You can even request live assistance from security experts and TSA agents if you have any questions about what you're allowed to bring through the screenings.