Whether you've flown five times or 500 times, you know that getting through airport security can be an annoying, time-consuming process. By the time you've waited in line, handed over your ID, bundled your possessions into a plastic bin and walked through the metal detector, you're already tired of traveling.
While you can't avoid going through airport security screening, there are things you can do to speed up the screening process.
Check TSA regulations to see which items belong in checked baggage (knives, for example) and which should be placed in your carry-on. Review your airline's policies, too, in case checked baggage fees and rules have changed since you last traveled. Leave prohibited items at home. Never put expensive items like cameras or jewelry into your checked baggage. Carry all of your prescription drugs with you.
Organize Tickets and Travel Documents
Remember to bring a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, passport or military ID card, to the airport. Your ID must show your name, date of birth, gender and an expiration date. Place your tickets and ID in a spot that's easy to reach so you won't have to fumble around for them in the security line. (Tip: Bring a passport for all international flights.)
Prepare Your Carry-On Items
In the US, you may bring one carry-on bag and one personal item – typically a laptop, purse or briefcase – into the passenger compartment on most airlines. Discount airlines, such as Spirit, have stricter rules. Be sure to remove all sharp items, such as knives, multitools and scissors, from your carry-on luggage. Place all liquid, gel and aerosol items into one quart-sized, clear plastic bag with a zip-top closure. No single item in this bag may contain more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of aerosol, gel or liquid.
Partially-used larger containers will not pass the security screening; leave them at home. While you may bring unlimited quantities of powdered substances onto the plane, TSA screeners may perform extra tests on any powder you carry aboard.
Pack Your Medications
Medications are not subject to the 3.4 ounces / 100-milliliter limit, but you must tell the TSA screeners that you have drugs with you and present them for inspection. It's easier to do this if you pack your medications together. If you use an insulin pump or another medical device, you'll need to declare that at the checkpoint, too. Place all of your medications in your carry-on bag. Never carry medications in your checked bag.
Prep Your Laptop
When you reach the metal detector, you'll be asked to take your laptop computer out of its bag and place it into a separate plastic bin, unless you carry it in a special "checkpoint friendly" bag. This bag cannot contain anything except your laptop.
Ban the Bling
While dressing up to travel is perfectly acceptable, almost any large metal object will set off the detector. Pack your belts with large buckles, glitzy bangle bracelets and extra change in your carry-on bag; don't wear or carry them on your person.
Dress for Success
If you have body piercings, consider removing your jewelry before you start the airport screening process. Wear slip-on shoes so that you can easily remove them. (Wear socks, too, if the idea of walking barefoot on the airport's floor bothers you.) Be prepared to undergo a pat-down screening if your clothing is very loose-fitting or if you wear a head covering that could conceal a weapon. (Tip: If you are over 75, the TSA will not ask you to remove your shoes or light jacket.)
Get Ready for Special Screenings
Travelers using wheelchairs, mobility aids, and other medical devices still need to go through the airport screening process. TSA screeners will inspect and physically screen wheelchairs and scooters. You will need to put smaller mobility aids, such as walkers, through the X-ray machine. If you use a prosthetic limb or wear a medical device such as an insulin pump or ostomy bag, you will need to tell the TSA screener. You may be asked to undergo a wand inspection or pat-down, but you will not need to remove your medical device.
Be ready to ask for a private inspection if the TSA screeners need to see your device. (They will not ask to see ostomy or urine bags.) Familiarize yourself with TSA rules and processes for screening passengers with medical conditions and disabilities so you know exactly what to expect and what to do if your screening officer does not follow established procedures.
Bring Your Common Sense
Approach the airport screening process with a common-sense, positive attitude. Stay alert, particularly as you place carry-on items into plastic bins and while you pick up your bags and put on your shoes. Thieves frequent airport security areas in order to take advantage of the confusion at the outbound end of the screening lane. Repack your laptop and organize your carry-on bag before you put your shoes on so you can keep track of your valuables. Be polite and stay positive throughout the screening process; cheerful travelers tend to get better service.
Don't make jokes; TSA officials take references to bombs and terrorism very seriously.
Consider TSA PreCheck®
The TSA's PreCheck® program lets you skip some of the security screening procedures, such as taking off your shoes, in exchange for providing them with your personal information in advance. You have to apply for the program online and visit a PreCheck® office to pay your nonrefundable fee (currently $85 for five years) and have your fingerprints taken, and there is no guarantee your application will be approved. If you fly regularly, using the PreCheck® screening line can save you time and reduce your travel stress level, making TSA PreCheck® an option worth considering.