The Last Stand: Getting Through Airport Security
Rules, regulations, paranoia. Making your way through an airport security checkpoint can be frustrating. Here are some tips to make it as painless as possible.
Before your flight
The first thing to remember: don’t pack anything stupid. This is especially true of what you take on board. We all know by now that they’re not going to let you on a plane with a pocket knife or a nail file. Even an innocent little snow globe might seem like a silly thing to confiscate, but think about their logic. There’s no reason for you to need it between take-off and landing, so if you want it on board, you might have some use for it in mind. Pack anything that might possibly be a problem in your suitcase.
Even your stowed luggage can come back to haunt you. If you have something in your suitcase that makes noise or looks like a homemade electronic device, you can pretty much expect your plane to be delayed as they pull you off for a few questions. If you must take it, call a few days ahead and make sure it will be okay. Otherwise, ship it or leave it at home.
Carry On, Sir
Carry-on luggage saves us from a lot of headaches, especially with all the fees for extra checked bags. But not following the airlines’ rules for carry-ons can seriously ruin your flight.
First of all, check your airline’s rules on their website. In most cases, you are allowed one carry-on bag and one “personal item” such as a laptop bag, purse, or even an umbrella or cane. Whatever you bring, though, has to fit in either the overhead or under the seat in front of you. They will stop you from getting on the plane if your bag is too big. The airport will have a place for you to measure your carry-on, but you can probably find the maximum measurements online.
The FAA also has some strict rules about what you can and can’t carry. Some are surprising; for example, common lighters can’t be in your packed luggage, but you can carry them on the plane. There’s also the important 3-1-1 Rule for liquids. You can have as many containers of liquid or gel 3-ounces or less as will fit in a clear 1-quart zip-top baggie, and each passenger gets 1 baggie. 3-1-1. Remember this if you need to carry toiletries (e.g., contact solution, lotion, shampoo). Anything else needs to be in your checked bag.
Now that you’re all packed, it’s time to get through the airport as quickly as possible. There are basically three parts of a security checkpoint: identification, carry-on scan, and personal scan.
The first is to make sure you and your ticket go together. You’ll need to show the officer your ID and your boarding pass. When you get to the checkpoint, have both of them in hand ready to show. Don’t bother with a wallet or purse; keep your ID in your pocket for this flight. And always hold your boarding pass or keep it in your sight.
The next step (assuming you are who you claim to be), is the scanning of everything you’re taking with you. You have to run almost everything but your clothes through the machine. That includes your belt, shoes, anything metal in your pockets, your carry-on bag, and your laptop.
While you’re waiting in line, get ready for your turn to scan. Take off your belt and shoes (wear slip-ons or flip-flops for easy off-and-on). If you have a 3-1-1 bag (see above), it has to be outside of your carry-on through the checkpoint. Put whatever’s in your pockets in your carry-on—better yet, put that stuff in your carry-on before you get to the airport. If you have a laptop, pull it out of the case (unless you have a “checkpoint friendly” bag—see the FAA website). Your hands will be full, but then you can dump everything into a bin and move right through.
The final step of the security checkpoint is the personal scan. In most cases, it’s simple; walk though the scanner, get your stuff and leave. There are some things that will slow you down, though.
Anything metal will set off the scanner. That includes jewelry or pocket change. Your best bet is not to wear any jewelry at all, or at least keep it in your carry-on until you get through security. If you followed the tips above, you shouldn’t have anything on you that will cause trouble.
The only other reason you might have a problem with security is if you do something to cause suspicion. The TSA guys are already a little edgy, and they can get pretty bored, so they’ll jump at the chance for anything that seems interesting. Don’t call attention to yourself. Be quick and business-like. Be courteous, but don’t be the silly kind of happy. Above all, don’t lose your temper or argue with anyone in a uniform. If you lose your cool for any reason, you can bet your trip will be put on hold while you get scanned individually.
Be smart, do a little research, and clear up any doubts before you get to the airport. If you play by the rules, you shouldn’t have to spend more than a few of minutes in the security line. Then you can be on your way to whatever fun-filled adventure you’ve got planned.