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. With a little preparation, you’ll be on your way before you know it.
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 have to do it all again a few minutes later.
Bearing in mind the fact 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 the age of 75, and people with TSA PreCheck can leave their shoes on.
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 all exempt from the 3-1-1 rule — as long as you declare them at the security checkpoint. This means you are allowed to carry more than 3.4 ounces of these substances, no plastic bag required. Just make sure your prescriptions are in their original labeled containers. Though it’s not a requirement, it speeds up the screening process.
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, your shoes, your jacket, your 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 having to separate 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 not only protected but also 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.
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 simple and direct answers. This is not the time for joking around 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 lengthy 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.